CHURCH PLANTING & Starting a Plant in a Internet Cafe: The Sol Cafe in Edmonton, AB

By Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., Jan. 15, 2006. This is an excerpt of the chapter on this innovative church plant I wrote for the Abingdon Press book titled: Inside the organic church: Learning from 12 emerging congregations.

Chapter 2: Sol Café, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

We’re a “coffee-stop,” an “information booth” along a spiritual highway.

“Worship leading is … ‘curating” (providing opportunities for engagement and free association). – Sally Morgenthaler, worship leader and consultant

First Encounters:

It looked like any other Internet café, with little indication a church gathering was about to take place. Feeling adrift, I made my way to the coffee bar. “I guess I’m the church greeter,” began Winston, the barista. “I usually don’t act so forward but you looked lost.” As a church growth consultant, I visit worship gatherings every weekend. But he was right, an unobtrusive beginning to this worship gathering had disoriented me. I didn’t know the bewilderment was so obvious.

“We usually don’t tell people a worship gathering is starting,” continued Winston. “We just let them get comfortable, have a coffee, and engage in conversation. Then the worship unfolds slowly … at an unhurried pace. We want to usher people into a spiritual encounter, we don’t want to announce ‘Hey, its worship time: in or out!’”

I wondered out loud if people get offended once they discover a worship gathering is unfolding. “Rarely,” replied Winston. “Most of the time people like the music, the unhurried atmosphere, patrons sharing their stories. It is a great way to do church, and it impacts people who have never been to church. They are slowly led into a church experience. It’s not dropped on them all at once.”

True to the forecast, the evening progressed deliberately forward, but at a leisured pace. People laughed, talked, introduced themselves, and generally turned this Internet café into an extended family. Instrumental music was played at first, but soon some people were singing along. Over time more joined in, and even reticent attendees soon sang. At first the songs had a reflective timbre, but as the evening progressed so did the songs’ Christian content, until finally I noticed many visitors were reflective and pensive. This unhurried evening would eventually culminate with a short interactive sermon.

The gathering that evening was warm and sociable. “And we get even better attendance when its colder,” reflected Matt Thompson one of the leaders. “Edmonton is cold in the winter,” he continued “and the Sole Café provides a warm cup of coffee, good conversations, and time to reflect on life.” Though usually frigid in January, this day in Edmonton Alberta resembled a spring afternoon. Yet good weather did not seem to deter a good turn out at the Sol Café.[i]

Dashboard:

Church: Sol Café

Leaders: Debbie and Rob Toews (now employed as the director of a Christian retreat center), Jacqueline and Winston Pei, Anika and Steve Martin, Matt Thompson, Dave Wakulchyk.

Location: Whyte Ave., an urban neighborhood in Edmonton, Alberta.

Affiliation: Christian and Missionary Alliance of Canada

Size: 30-55

Target Audience: college/postmodern thinkers, metropolitan residents, urban artists, immigrant families, blue collar families, people in their twenties into late-thirties.

Website: thesolcafe.com

A Fusion of Rhythms:

Shared Rhythms

The Rhythm of Place

“We wanted to create an atmosphere where people could come and just sit around,” reflected Rob Toews, the founding pastor. Jokingly he continued, “a pub was another option, but we didn’t think the CMA[ii] was ready for that.”

Sol Café had begun in the basement of a nearby Christian and Missionary Alliance Church. However, the leaders felt that the catacombs of a local church would not adequately impact the postmodern thinkers in the neighborhood. “The church facility was a safe bet. It was available, and it wasn’t costly,” continued Rob. “But it also wasn’t very effective.”

Rob and another leader used a large portion of the denominational support to purchase a local Internet café. During the week they ran it as a business. Rob worked 2-3 shifts a week, selling coffee and conversing. Eddie Gibbs describes such risk taking as a characteristic of the organic church, where, “uncertainty becomes an occasion for growth, not a cause of paralysis. It is a church prepared to take risks, which learns from its failures and mistakes.”[iii]

As Gibbs forecast, mistakes followed risks. “The café was supposed to support the church, but the finances to support the staff weren’t there,” recounted Rob. “And the people we were reaching were too young or too underprivileged to make significant contributions. But the location was excellent for our mission … just not for our finances.[iv]

Read more by downloading the chapter BOOK ©Whitesel EXCERPT – OC Chpt. 2 Sol Cafe.  But, if you enjoy the book consider supporting the publisher and the author by purchasing a copy.

And, find more examples of innovative and cost-effective church planing models here: https://churchhealthwiki.wordpress.com/2018/02/07/church-planting-cost-effective-alternatives-to-the-customary-planting-strategies/

[i] Sol Café’s leaders appropriated their name from the book “A Cup of Coffee at the Soul Café” by Leonard I. Sweet and Denise Marie Siino (New York: Broadman & Holman, 1998). They also modified to fit the bilingual culture of Canada.

[ii] Christian and Missionary Alliance of Canada, the denominational affiliation of the Sol Café congregation.

[iii] Eddie Gibbs, Church Next: Quantum Changes in How We Do Ministry, (Downers Grove, Ill.: 2000), p. 235.

[iv] Subsequently, Rob Toews had to take a fulltime job at a Christian retreat center. “I think we will survive, but it will be difficult,” observed Rob. “We are on our own now. No support from the denomination, which can be a good thing. It will make us learn and adapt.”

And click here to download a flier from the Sol Cafe explaining a bit about their ethos and genesis: thesolcafe.

CHURCH PLANTING & Cost-effective Alternatives to the Customary Planting Strategies

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 02.07.18.

I’m a big fan of church planting and I’ve planted a church myself. And, from first-hand experience I know that church planting can be a fiscally draining process. Therefore I’ve been exploring other planting strategies that are less expensive.

Here are some innovative ideas I’ve discovered:

CHURCH PLANTING & Church has no walls but many doors, accessible to seekers and skeptics

by Leadership & Faith Editorial Board, Duke University, 1/31/18. https://www.faithandleadership.com/church-has-no-walls-many-doors-accessible-seekers-and-skeptics?utm_source=NI_newsletter&utm_medium=content&utm_campaign=NI_feature I coach churches in this conservative, Episcopal diocese in Texas and am amazed by some of the creativity by our high liturgy brethren.

CHURCH PLANTING & Why the “Lean Start-up Movement” changes everything,

Video by the Harvard Business Review, 1/16/18: “Why the Lean Start-Up Changes Everything”

CHURCH PLANTING & Gentrification: More than hipster mobility, it can do greater good.

by Sam Gringlas, National Public Radio, 1/16/17, http://www.npr.org/2017/01/16/505606317/d-c-s-gentrifying-neighborhoods-a-careful-mix-of-newcomers-and-old-timers

CHURCH PLANTING & The “Ripple Model” is More Effective: Make It a Ministry of All Healthy Churches

An article in which I suggest a church begins to multiply campuses and/or sites, or by partnering with a dying congregation, launching venues in public spaces, etc.,  https://churchhealthwiki.wordpress.com/2016/09/18/church-planting-the-ripple-model-is-more-effective-make-it-a-ministry-of-all-healthy-churches/

CHURCH PLANTING & Starting a Plant in a Internet Cafe: The Sol Cafe in Edmonton, AB.

This is an excerpt of the chapter on this innovative church plant I wrote for the Abingdon Press book titled: Inside the organic church: Learning from 12 emerging congregations.

Chapter 2: Sol Café, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

We’re a “coffee-stop,” an “information booth” along a spiritual highway.

“Worship leading is … ‘curating” (providing opportunities for engagement and free association). – Sally Morgenthaler, worship leader and consultant

First Encounters:

It looked like any other Internet café, with little indication a church gathering was about to take place. Feeling adrift, I made my way to the coffee bar. “I guess I’m the church greeter,” began Winston, the barista. “I usually don’t act so forward but you looked lost.” As a church growth consultant, I visit worship gatherings every weekend. But he was right, an unobtrusive beginning to this worship gathering had disoriented me. I didn’t know the bewilderment was so obvious.

“We usually don’t tell people a worship gathering is starting,” continued Winston. “We just let them get comfortable, have a coffee, and engage in conversation. Then the worship unfolds slowly … at an unhurried pace. We want to usher people into a spiritual encounter, we don’t want to announce ‘Hey, its worship time: in or out!’”

I wondered out loud if people get offended once they discover a worship gathering is unfolding. “Rarely,” replied Winston. “Most of the time people like the music, the unhurried atmosphere, patrons sharing their stories. It is a great way to do church, and it impacts people who have never been to church. They are slowly led into a church experience. It’s not dropped on them all at once.”

True to the forecast, the evening progressed deliberately forward, but at a leisured pace. People laughed, talked, introduced themselves, and generally turned this Internet café into an extended family. Instrumental music was played at first, but soon some people were singing along. Over time more joined in, and even reticent attendees soon sang. At first the songs had a reflective timbre, but as the evening progressed so did the songs’ Christian content, until finally I noticed many visitors were reflective and pensive. This unhurried evening would eventually culminate with a short interactive sermon.

The gathering that evening was warm and sociable. “And we get even better attendance when its colder,” reflected Matt Thompson one of the leaders. “Edmonton is cold in the winter,” he continued “and the Sole Café provides a warm cup of coffee, good conversations, and time to reflect on life.” Though usually frigid in January, this day in Edmonton Alberta resembled a spring afternoon. Yet good weather did not seem to deter a good turn out at the Sol Café.[i]

Dashboard:

Church: Sol Café

Leaders: Debbie and Rob Toews (now employed as the director of a Christian retreat center), Jacqueline and Winston Pei, Anika and Steve Martin, Matt Thompson, Dave Wakulchyk.

Location: Whyte Ave., an urban neighborhood in Edmonton, Alberta.

Affiliation: Christian and Missionary Alliance of Canada

Size: 30-55

Target Audience: college/postmodern thinkers, metropolitan residents, urban artists, immigrant families, blue collar families, people in their twenties into late-thirties.

Website: thesolcafe.com

A Fusion of Rhythms:

Shared Rhythms

The Rhythm of Place

“We wanted to create an atmosphere where people could come and just sit around,” reflected Rob Toews, the founding pastor. Jokingly he continued, “a pub was another option, but we didn’t think the CMA[ii] was ready for that.”

Sol Café had begun in the basement of a nearby Christian and Missionary Alliance Church. However, the leaders felt that the catacombs of a local church would not adequately impact the postmodern thinkers in the neighborhood. “The church facility was a safe bet. It was available, and it wasn’t costly,” continued Rob. “But it also wasn’t very effective.”

Rob and another leader used a large portion of the denominational support to purchase a local Internet café. During the week they ran it as a business. Rob worked 2-3 shifts a week, selling coffee and conversing. Eddie Gibbs describes such risk taking as a characteristic of the organic church, where, “uncertainty becomes an occasion for growth, not a cause of paralysis. It is a church prepared to take risks, which learns from its failures and mistakes.”[iii]

As Gibbs forecast, mistakes followed risks. “The café was supposed to support the church, but the finances to support the staff weren’t there,” recounted Rob. “And the people we were reaching were too young or too underprivileged to make significant contributions. But the location was excellent for our mission … just not for our finances.[iv]

Read more by downloading the chapter BOOK ©Whitesel EXCERPT – OC Chpt. 2 Sol Cafe.  But, if you enjoy the book consider supporting the publisher and the author by purchasing a copy.

[i] Sol Café’s leaders appropriated their name from the book “A Cup of Coffee at the Soul Café” by Leonard I. Sweet and Denise Marie Siino (New York: Broadman & Holman, 1998). They also modified to fit the bilingual culture of Canada.

[ii] Christian and Missionary Alliance of Canada, the denominational affiliation of the Sol Café congregation.

[iii] Eddie Gibbs, Church Next: Quantum Changes in How We Do Ministry, (Downers Grove, Ill.: 2000), p. 235.

[iv] Subsequently, Rob Toews had to take a fulltime job at a Christian retreat center. “I think we will survive, but it will be difficult,” observed Rob. “We are on our own now. No support from the denomination, which can be a good thing. It will make us learn and adapt.”

And click here to download a flier from the Sol Cafe explaining a bit about their ethos and genesis: thesolcafe.

Find more on innovative and cost-effective alternatives to church planting here: https://churchhealthwiki.wordpress.com/2018/02/07/church-planting-starting-a-plant-in-a-internet-cafe-the-sol-cafe-in-edmonton-ab/

CONVERSION & Types With An Analysis of Organic Churches and Their Current Views on It

An Analysis of Organic Churches and Their Current Views on Conversion

By Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., Professor of Missional Leadership, Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University, The Journal of Evangelism and Mission, Midwest Baptist Theological Seminary, Vol. 10, Spring 2011, pp. 13-25, downloadable here: whitesel-jounral-article-changing-views-on-conversion.

A Follow-up to a Previous Study

In 2004-2005 I visited and analyzed several dozen churches which where primarily growing with young people under the age of 35. From this sample I chose twelve churches to profile in a book published by Abingdon Press. This book chronicled my impressions of these congregations and sought to identify recurring patterns among these churches as well as transferable lessons for similar congregations.

The sample contained churches of varying attendance sizes.[i] For simplicity I primarily followed McIntosh’s size differentiations (401+ large, 201-400 medium),[ii] but added to this Schaller’s delineations of 50-100 as a small church and 100-225 as a middle-sized/awkward congregation.[iii] While creating a small degree of overlap, the following church attendance demarcations were utilized for straightforwardness: 401+ large, 225-400 medium, 100-225 awkward, less than 100 small.[iv]

In the sample two were large churches (10,000+ Mars Hill in Grandville, MI and 1,700+ St. Thomas/Philadelphia Church in Sheffield, UK), and the reminder were divided between medium congregations (355+, Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, CA; 350-400, Scum of the Earth in Denver, CO; 250+, Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis, MN), awkward-sized churches (155+, The Bridge in Phoenix, AZ; 125+, Bluer in Minneapolis, MN) and smaller churches (30-55 the sole café in Edmonton, AB; 65+ Freeway in Baton Rouge, LA; 40-55, Church of the Apostles, Seattle, WA; 50-75, One Place, Phoenix, AZ; 25-55, Tribe of LA, Los Angeles, CA).

Organic Organizations

I chose to describe these congregations as organic in character. I appropriated the organic appellation, not because of the trendiness with which some authors apply the term today,[v] but because of an antecedent history in which organic describes a holistic, interconnected and symbiotic organization.  A brief overview of the term’s etymology with regard to organizational, and especially ecclesial, application may be helpful.

James F. Engel was one of the first to offer a holistic definition, stating that the “organic church model” has five attributes: 1) one body with one leadership, 2) equipped by God with supernatural giftings, 3) led by God through disciplined planning, 4) ministering to one another in community, 5) and ministering to the world.[vi] Howard Snyder emphasized the supernatural aspect stating that a healthy church was a “charismatic organism,” which he defined as a congregation that is empowered by God (charismatic) and where “all of its people are ministers” (organic).[vii] Alan Roxburgh, while describing the Free Churches of the Reformation states that their healthy leadership structures were due to a “recovery of an organic, lay lead church seeking to restore pre-Constantinian images of church and leadership.”[viii] And, Charles Singletary described organic church growth as “… all sorts of sub-groups, small groups and networks so vital to the assimilation, nurture and mobilization of the membership. Organic growth involves the leadership and shepherding network of a church.”[ix]

In similar vein, political theory uses the terminology of an organic intellectual to describe a leader connected to her or his hearers and gifted in explaining grand and pervasive concepts in simple terms.[x] Marxist Antonio Gramsci, who popularized the term, believed organic intellectuals were not only academicians, but playwrights, novelists, journalists and media professionals. He stressed that organic intellectuals analyze a culture, experience it, and even travel along with it to better understand it. Leaders who might be considered organic intellectuals include: Martin Luther, John Milton, John Wesley, Vladimir Lenin, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and Martin Luther King Jr. among others. I have noted elsewhere that “the organic intellectual contextualizes grand truths in terminology that a modern culture can understand, so as to not obliterate the modern culture. This idea of an organic intellectual that does not emasculate a culture, but sojourns along with it to translate grand understandings to it, mirrors the missional attitude of the organic church.”[xi]

In today’s business world an organic organization has become a prevalent aim of organizational leadership. Mary Jo Hatch, a leading management thinker and scholar, is a proponent of the idea of organic organizations. She describes “four conditions” that comprise an organic organization. These conditions can provide us with a fitting summation of the characteristics motioned above. Studying hundreds of organizations Hatch sees four root metaphors that delineate organic organizations and organic leadership.[xii]

Condition 1: “Organic dependency upon its environment… An organic organization is dependent upon its environment for the resources that support life.” This means an organic organization is not a closed society, but is engaged with its environment. I will discuss shortly how this was an attribute I observed in the youthful congregations under study.

Condition 2: “Organic harmony among the parts” indicates all parts are needed and must work together seamlessly.

Condition 3: “Organic adaption to the surroundings,” stresses that organic organizations must adaption to new and changing environments, which thus expect ongoing change.

Condition 4: “Organic uniqueness from other organisms” means that different species live in different environments and respond differently.[xiii] The implication is that what works in one organic organization may not work in another, due to varying organizational contexts.

Not surprisingly organic also provides a fitting metaphor for churches because of Scriptural antecedents and validity, e.g. as 1 Cor. 12, Eph. 1, Col. 1 and Rom. 12. In 1 Corinthians. Although a thorough discussion of the nature and validity of the organic appellation is beyond (and not necessarily germane to) this present discussion, I have offered the above overview to introduce the reader to my thinking and to explain the term when it does appear.

Missional Impressions and Melodies

As a result of my research I found four broad attitudes that despite denominational affiliation and geographic location, persisted among the 12 youthful congregations I studied. I described these over-arching themes as “melodies,” using the musical metaphor because these melodies reoccurred with different cadences, in different keys and even with different personal interpretation. Still, these four melodies occurred in all 12 case studies.

For the first melody, I found that these case study churches embraced a theology that was consistent with their denominational theology. For example, Karen Ward’s church (Church of the Apostles, Seattle, WA) embraced theology (as evident in their liturgy, published statements and the worship/sermons I observed) that was consistent with their Evangelical Lutheran Church of American and Episcopal Church USA affiliations. And, I found Aaron Norwood’s theology in word and practice consistent with his Southern Baptist Church affiliation (even though part of this church meets in the very un-Baptist location of a college bar). A induction, discussed at length in my earlier work, was that these emerging churches were more the product of new aesthetic expressions than divergent theological expressions (since they did not mirror denominational methodology, but they did so in theology). An investigative article in The New York Times concurred, stating, “Many emerging churches preach the same message as their sponsoring (evangelical) churches, but use different methods.”[xiv]

The second melody I noted was that these congregations embraced a sense of honesty and openness, that they often referred to as “authenticity.” For example, their church worship expressions were more concerned about helping attendees encounter God, rather than attaining excellence and/or creating an attractional event. This authenticity was reflected in their congregational discussions in small groups (e.g. Sunday schools, etc.) and sermons where openness about faults and doubts were encouraged. One church held their weekly services in an Internet café, preferring to conduct their communal life in public. The churches seemed to value putting down their masks of perfection for the sake of honesty and growth.

A third melody I observed was that these churches worked hard to minister to people across the spectrum of the evangelistic journey, i.e. before and after the conversionary experience. Since evangelism is a process of unfolding Good News whereby a person becomes reconnected with their Creator (the missio Dei), then meeting the physical needs of a needy individual can be Good News to that individual. In a parallel fashion, helping a Christian discover their spiritual gifts can be good news to a growing Christian. Thus, both meeting physical needs pre-conversion as well as fostering spiritual formation post-conversion are both part of an unfolding Good News to spiritual travelers. Subsequently, I found these churches rejecting a false dichotomy between social ministry and spiritual discipleship. Instead they see both of these actions as part of the Good News process, and hence part of evangelism. Lewis Drummond expresses their perspective, stating “in postmodern terms, we might say that Jesus came to bring equal access and opportunity to those in substandard living conditions, to give voice and identity to those other than the dominant social elite, and to alleviate the ravages of capitalistic imperialism and colonialist economic aggression.”[xv] John Stott, writing for the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelism described the need to balance social ministry with spiritual ministry as “the relationship between two wings on a bird or two oars in a boat … being inseparable.”[xvi] Such a perspective was, in the minds of these youthful congregations, a reaction against their parent’s churches, who in Donald Kraybill words, had created an “upside down kingdom” uncoupling economic freedom from spiritual freedom.[xvii] Subsequently, these youthful congregations tried to minister across as much of the spiritual journey as feasible, offering intentional and robust ministry before conversion and afterwards. Figure 1 depicts the stages of evangelism that these churches typically cover (which were more palatable when called “waypoints”). These waypoints were created by merging James Engel’s Scale of Spiritual Decision[xviii] with Robert Clinton’s Phases of Leadership.[xix]

Figure 1: Waypoints of Spiritual Decision

 

Whitesel’s WAYPOINTS

16 No awareness of supreme being

15 Awareness of supreme being, no knowledge of the Good News

14 Initial awareness of the Good News

13 Awareness of the fundamentals of the Good News

12 Grasp of the implications of the Good News

11 Positive attitude towards the Good News

10 Personal problem recognition

9 Decision to act

8 Repentance and faith in Christ

7 NEW BIRTH

6 Post-decision evaluation

5 Incorporation into the Body

4 Spiritual foundations (conceptual and behavioral growth)

3 Inner-life growth (deepening communion with God)

2 Ministry emergence (spiritual gifts emerge)

1 Impact emergence (life influences others)

0 Convergence (experience, gifts and influence converge into a life of integrity and inspiration)

The final melody I observed was a linking of classic Church Growth Movement principles with the terminology and ideology of the missional church. I have described this as “missional church growth,” for these congregations often reframed Church Growth Movement principles in missional terminology. For example they emphasized classic Church Growth principles such as the importance of cultural groups/contexts, discipleship in small groups, people movements, presence-proclamation-persuasion, social-webs, planting internal-external churches-venues, and every Christian’s responsibility to participate in the missio Dei.[xx] I was even surprised how often the pastors of these churches cited the classic Church Growth Movement writers such as Donald A. McGavran, George G. Hunter III, John Eddie Gibbs, etc..

In addition to these overarching melodies, I observed 16 reoccurring patterns that expanded lists by Van Gelder[xxi] and Gibbs.[xxii] However, in this initial survey I did not specifically query the leaders, nor track patterns of conversion. Therefore, one topic which might be germane for this present discussion would be to resurvey the leaders of these churches and ask about their views on conversion. Such an exercise can give the reader insight into the thinking of these leaders of youthful churches regarding salvation and conversion. However, this article is not written to be the last word (or even the definitive first word) on the topic of youth-orientated churches and their views on conversion. Rather, this is an initial exercise (one of many I hope) that will explore emerging leaders and their thoughts about evangelism and conversion.

Varying Types of Conversion

I asked each leader the same questions about conversion and evangelism.   Because churches from varying denominational backgrounds were utilized, I tried to employ a holistic perspective of conversion, using general categories from the writings of Scot McKnight, Richard Peace, Charles Kraft and others. To compare these different kinds of conversion, the following chart is adapted from my earlier book Spiritual Waypoints: Helping Others Navigate the Journey and is used here with permission.

Figure 2: A Comparative Look at Conversion[xxiii]

Types of Conversion
Personal Decision Socialization Liturgical Acts
Customary Denominational

Context

 

Evangelicals, c e

Pentecostals c e

 

Mainline

Protestants c e

 

Roman Catholics, c e

Orthodox Church c e

Strengths Radical departure from the past. Point of conversion does not require a sordid past. Mystery and encounter with the supernatural.
Weaknesses In some studies only 10 percent of these decisions “resulted in long-term changes in personal behavior.d

Mechanical tools can replace community. e

The work of conversion can “drift from the center of one’s ecclesiastical vision.”e

Faith can become a matter of duty and obligation. e

Liturgy has to be learned, as well as how to participate in it before conversion.e

 

Adage “Conversion is                   an individual experience that can be dated exactly.” e “Belonging before believing.” e “To arouse the sleeping faith in the nominal Christian.”e
Customary participants. Raised in a secular environment. e

First generation Christiansa

Raised in a Christian home.b

Second generation Christiansa

Second generation Christiansa

 

a. Charles Kraft, “Christian Conversion As A Dynamic Process,” International Christian Broadcasters Bulletin (Colorado Springs, Colo.: International Christian Broadcasters, 19740, Second Quarter.

b. Scot McKnight, Personal Interview, June 2, 2009.

c. Scot McKnight, Turning to Jesus: The Sociology of Conversion in the Gospels.

d. Donald Miller, Reinventing American Protestantism: Christianity in the new Millennium (Berkley: University of Calif. Press, 1997), 171-172.

e. Richard Peace, “Conflicting Understandings of Christian Conversion: A Missiological Challenge,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research, Vol. 28, No. 1, 8.

To take advantage of these categories, I asked the following questions of all church leaders from the previous study who were available and open to answer my queries.[xxiv] I will list their responses and then give my observations based upon my knowledge of the individual and their churches.

Questions on Evangelism and Conversion

Instructions: Thank you for letting me write about your congregation in Inside the Organic Church: Learning from 12 Emerging Congregations.[xxv] I am writing an article for a scholarly journal. For this next part of my research, it will be helpful if I can obtain from all previous interviewees their experiences and views on evangelism. Would you please answer the following questions in one paragraph or less per question (except where a number or circled item is required)? Thank you.

Question 1: Please state you name and current occupation.

Question 2: How do you define evangelism and how does evangelism take place in your congregation?

Question 3: How do you define conversion and how does conversion take place in the congregation?

Question 4: Circle all of the statements below that described what you have experienced:

  • My conversion was a experience that I can date exactly.
  • I was converted from a sordid past.
  • My conversion took place over a period of time and dating the exact date is difficult.
  • I was connected to a Christian community before I was converted.
  • My conversion occurred in conjunction with a liturgical or sacramental experience.
  • I was a nominal Christian but a worship experience awakened my sleeping faith.
  • I was raised in a non-churchgoing home.
  • I was raised in a Christian home.

Questions 5 – 8: On a Likert Scale with

1 = strongly negative,

2 = negative

3 = no opinion

4 = positive

5 = strongly positive

What are your feelings about the following terms?

Question 5: Salvation

Question 6: Born-again

Question 7: Conversion

Question 8: Sudden conversion

Question 9: Progressive conversion

Question 10: What is your denominational affiliation? If none, please designate a denomination that might be similar.

Responses:

Steve Wallace

Former pastor of Freeway, Baton Rouge, LA

Background:[xxvi] This church averaged 65+ attendees and met in the sanctuary of a Presbyterian Church in Prairieville, LA (a suburb of Baton Rouge). They employed many of the artifacts of an emerging church culture, including interactive worship stations and multi-media sermons. The church has since ended, and Steve Wallace is the associate pastor at a nearby planted church affiliated with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

Question 1: Please state your name and current occupation.

Steve Wallace, Associate Pastor, River Church South (new church plant), Gonzales LA

Question 2: How do you define evangelism and how does evangelism take place in your congregation?

Defined by the terms used in the New Testament, ‘evangelism’ means ‘to share or announce the good news.’ In our young church plant, we encourage our members and regular attenders to evangelize (to share the story of Jesus) everywhere—at work, in their neighborhoods, at school and in their families. We structure our small group ministries and instructional classes, then, to assist our members to do that and do it purposefully and well. To that end, our worship services include evangelistic messages too.

Question 3:  How do you define conversion and how does conversion take place in the congregation?

As conversion is “the act of turning from sin and self toward God through Jesus Christ,” a certain sense of awareness of one’s spiritual condition is present. That level of understanding is obviously possible through preaching and teaching, but in our congregation has taken place more often in intimate settings like a small group, an Alpha class, or in conversations over coffee. In answering Questions 2 and 3, I found the New Dictionary of Theology—IVP, 1988—helpful in expressing my thoughts.

Question 4: Circle all of the statements below that described what you have experienced:

  • My conversion was an experience that I can date exactly.
  • I was connected to a Christian community before I was converted.
  • My conversion occurred in conjunction with a liturgical or sacramental experience.
  • I was raised in a Christian home.

My conversion took place during a Sunday evening worship service at the United Methodist church my family had attended since I was two. I was seven at the time.

Question 5:  Salvation = 5
Question 6:  Born-again = 5
Question 7:  Conversion = 5
Question 8:  Sudden conversion = 5
Question 9:  Progressive conversion = 5

Note from Wallace: My conversion experience is just that—my experience, and yet I do not believe it to be an all-inclusive standard for all followers of Jesus Christ. That is why I have ‘strongly positive’ feelings about each of the five terms listed.

Question 10: What is your denominational affiliation?  If none, please designate a denomination that might be similar.

Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC)

Notes by Bob Whitesel: Steve Wallace notes that conversionary processes at his church seem to be the most active in small group environments and inner-personal dialogue. As a church leader, he also expects what Lois Barrett calls the “missional vocation” pattern of counting on congregants to “evangelize (to share the story of Jesus) everywhere—at work, in their neighborhoods, at school and in their families.” And, Wallace notes that church programs support congregants in this mission. He appears to have experienced a conversionary experience that is datable. And, he holds in high regard the terms associated with evangelism, including sudden conversion which he has experienced but which appears to be somewhat foreign to the congregation’s experience.

Questions for further research.

  • Does a sudden conversionary experience lead pastors to emphasize evangelism and/or conversion in their churches more so than those pastors who have experienced progressive conversion?
  • What is the exact relationship between small groups and conversion both historically (e.g. Wesleyan movement, Vineyard Churches, etc.) and in contemporary practice?

 

Aaron Norwood

Pastor of The Bridge and Rio Vista in Phoenix, AZ

Background:[xxvii] This is a church plant of 155+ with Southern Baptist affiliation that formerly met in two nightclubs/bars and also in a homeless shelter in downtown Phoenix. The church grew in the nightclubs/bars, but when it had enough money to purchase a building chose to purchase a homeless shelter (the Rio Vista Center) in downtown Phoenix. They chose this location to restore a formerly struggling ministry to the homeless. I observed Aaron stating to congregants at the nightclubs/bars that the Sunday morning brunch with service to the homeless in the Rio Vista Center was their “real” weekly service (and not the worship and preaching services in the nightclubs/bars). Norwood’s strategy was to motivate young people who might come out to the familiar environment of a bar to get involved in “real service” at a Sunday brunch for hundreds of homeless people. It is refreshing to see youthful congregations eschewing a retreat to the suburbs, and instead purchasing facilities in the inner city to grow ministry to the urban poor.

Question 1: Please state you name and current occupation.

Aaron Norwood,

Lead Pastor, the Bridge church and Commercial Real Estate Broker

Question 2: How do you define evangelism and how does evangelism take place in your congregation?

We define evangelism as sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ in word and deed. this takes place as we serve our community’s needs: food, clothing, job resources, navigating government issues, pregnancy resources, Biblical teaching, and worship.

Question 3:  How do you define conversion and how does conversion take place in the congregation?

Conversion is the process of a person deciding that they want to change their life and follow Jesus. This happens slowly for some, and instantly for others.

Question 4: Circle all of the statements below that described what you have experienced:

  • My conversion took place over a period of time and dating the exact date is difficult.
  • I was raised in a Christian home.

Question 5:  Salvation = 4
Question 6:  Born-again = 2
Question 7:  Conversion = 3
Question 8:  Sudden conversion = 3
Question 9:  Progressive conversion = 3

Question 10: What is your denominational affiliation?  If none, please designate a denomination that might be similar.

Southern Baptist

Notes by Bob Whitesel: Outreach in “word and deed” is a phrase I often hear in these congregations. There is a network of parishioners and academicians that fosters this, lead by a colleague Al Tizon and called “The Word and Deed Network.” A part of the Evangelicals for Social Action their goal is “…to see every Christian congregation to be engaged actively in holistic ministry – leading people to faith in Christ, restoring community, and working for social transformation.”[xxviii] This would be a good depiction of the ministry I observed at The Bridge and their Rio Vista Center. In addition, in his responses Norwood embraces both sudden and progressive conversion though he has experienced the latter, and finds ‘salvation” a more attractive term than conversion (either sudden or progressive).

Questions for further research.

  • To what degree does denominational affiliation (e.g. SBC) influence preference for the term salvation (perhaps more self-centered) or conversion (perhaps more altruistic)?
  • To what degree does one’s belief in sudden or progressive conversion influence their ministry to the poor?

Dan Kimball

Vintage Faith Church, Santa Cruz, CA

Background:[xxix] I’ve visited this church three times, with my initial visit forming the basis for the description in an earlier book. At that time Vintage Faith Church had been planted by Santa Cruz Bible Church but was meeting in the mother church’s gymnasium. This venue better accommodated the many artistic stations, prayer grottos and mood walls than the location into which they have subsequently moved. The present location is a former Presbyterian church which seats approximately 250 and which barely accommodates the Vintage Faith congregation. With multiple worship encounters the church still runs about 375-400 in attendance. But, though the venue limits their creativity and worship expressions, I found the church on my two recent visits still embracing an innovative and experimental style of worship. Of interest to me was if these changes in venues, partnerships and their ongoing experimental competency have bearing upon Kimball’s views on evangelism. Though not addressed directly, the following responses from Kimball indicate that they might.

Question 1: Please state you name and current occupation.

Dan Kimball, staff member at Vintage Faith Church leading the teaching and mission of the church.

Question 2: How do you define evangelism and how does evangelism take place in your congregation?

Evangelism is the proclamation and explanation of the good news of Jesus – His teachings, His life, His death and resurrection and what was accomplished on the cross and how putting faith in Him is salvation. And then salvation needs definition. Bottom line, evangelism is about how Jesus has saved us and the good news of salvation that we can be forgiven, saved, go to heaven and join in His mission here on the earth etc.

Evangelism takes place all the time. But it happens in both discreet and very bold ways. Primarily it is through the lives of the people of the church who are ambassadors for Jesus and represent Him in the world. Through trust gained in relationships they share about their faith with people they know. They pray for people and it seems that through time some may be interested in knowing more. It may eventually lead to them coming to our church’s worship gatherings or small groups or events. And over time they learn more about Jesus and if the Spirit moves them they put faith in Jesus and make a decision to trust Him and follow Him.

But it is something we have to ALL the time be talking about as it is very easy to slip into our own worlds and busy lives and get consumed with church activities and our Christian friends. And the church also has to strategically be thinking about this in what we do in teaching, in events etc. IN our church instead of first investing in the sanctuary and sound systems and all when we moved into our building, we instead spent the money on opening a coffeehouse and art gallery that is open 7 days a week. It is in our building and it’s purpose is building trust in our community and evangelism (but we don’t proselytize people) it is all relational and subtle. But the coffee house is to break stereotypes of what Christians and churches are and also provide a service to the community and local college students. We don’t kick them out if they don’t buy coffee and provide a place for them to study.

Question 3:  How do you define conversion and how does conversion take place in the congregation?

I think the process leading to conversion is so varied. But I do believe there is a distinct time when the Holy Spirit regenerates and become part of a person’s life upon their faith in Jesus. Conversions in our church happen more as a process of learning and trusting that happens. But eventually whether  it is in a worship gathering when we occasionally explain the gospel (that happens often) but when we ask directly if you have never prayed to trust Jesus – and we lead them in a prayer. But it seems more often it happens when someone learns enough and is then praying on their own and makes a decision of faith and believes. And then they tell us or when we have a baptism class they then tell us their story and we learn about the decision they made.

Question 4: Circle all of the statements below that described what you have experienced:

  • My conversion took place over a period of time and dating the exact date is difficult.
  • I was raised in a non-churchgoing home.

Question 5:  Salvation = 5

Question 6:  Born-again = 4

Question 7:  Conversion = 4

Question 8:  Sudden conversion = 4

Question 9:  Progressive conversion = 4

Question 10: What is your denominational affiliation?  If none, please designate a denomination that might be similar.

We started as an independent church which was pretty much Baptist in our theology with progressive forms of methodology as we are on mission. We have partnered with an aging PCUSA (Presbyterian Church USA) church, so learning all about that now.

Notes by Bob Whitesel: It is interesting that Kimball begins his definition of evangelism on a more soteriological tone, rather than a missio Dei one (note too his response to Question 5 in relationship to Questions 6-9). This may be because of Kimball’s salvationist history in the Baptist stream. Regardless of genesis, his perspective demonstrates a strong commitment to evangelism. For example, I personally observed Kimball talking in an amicable yet straightforward manner about conversion with a college professor who attended Vintage Faith Church but by her own admission had yet experienced conversion. Kimball, along with Norwood, may be the most forthright in discussing conversion with spiritual travelers approaching the point of conversion (and both have Baptist backgrounds). Still, it seems that Kimball’s experience with the populace of the somewhat libertine community of Santa Cruz, California has expanded his appreciation for the progression that takes place before conversion. Thus, in Kimball we see a quest for equilibrium between sudden and progressive aspects of conversion. Note that even though we noted in Figure 1 a caveat with progressive conversion is that conversion can “drift from the center of one’s ecclesiastical vision,”[xxx] Kimball seems aware of this. Kimball addresses this, stating that “it is something we have to ALL the time be talking about as it is very easy to slip into our own worlds and busy lives and get consumed with church activities and our Christian friends. And the church also has to strategically be thinking about this (conversion) in what we do in teaching, in events etc (caps for emphasis by Kimball).” Therefore, Kimball may be one of the best examples of an leader who recognizes the importance of sudden conversion, but does not try to hurry up the process that leads up to it. Kimball balances his openness to the slow cycles of human maturation, with an expectation that a point-action experience will cement in the spiritual traveler’s mind their supernatural encounter.

Questions for further research.

  • Does an experimental approach to worship and/or the arts influence one’s perspective on conversion?
  • How much does an emerging leader’s theological heritage affect their view of conversion?
  • To what degree is an enthusiasm for long-term discipleship associated with the church leader’s views on progressive conversion, sudden conversion or a balance between the two?
  • To what degree does a church’s context (i.e. community culture) affect a leader’s viewpoints on progressive and/or sudden conversion?
  • To what degree does a church’s partnerships (e.g. Bible Church or PCUSA) affect a leader’s viewpoints on progressive and/or sudden conversion?

Winston Pei

the sol café, Edmonton, AB

Background:[xxxi] This congregation utilizes an Internet café as their site for a new church plant of the Christian and Missionary Alliance of Canada. With a motto, “Come for a coffee and let God feed your soul,” this congregation runs a full feature Internet café during the week while hosting worship encounters on Sunday evenings. The Internet café was leased from previous proprietors and provides a gathering place for people in the community. The church leaders are customarily the baristas and as such connect with community residents all week long and not just on Sundays. Located on Whyte Ave., an urban neighborhood in Edmonton Alberta, the congregation of the sol café attracts college students, metropolitan residents, urban artists, immigrant families and blue-collar families. The use of an Internet café for their plant also provides a degree of fiscal support to the planted church.

Question 1: Please state you name and current occupation.

Winston Pei, Graphic Design, Communications/Technology Consultant and a leader of the sol café.

Question 2: How do you define evangelism and how does evangelism take place in your congregation?

If I had to define it, and without giving it nearly the thought it needs, I would say evangelism is the act of communicating and nurturing an understanding of the Christian faith in people who do not consider themselves Christian. I think it has taken place within our group through personal relationships, through the writing and content of our website, and through the personal exploration and practice of our faith in public spaces, spaces that are less threatening to people who may otherwise have reason to ignore, resist or protest the possibilities that the Christian faith offers, spaces where people who otherwise have no overt or explicit exposure to the Christian faith might overhear or witness an active exploration of same.

Question 3: How do you define conversion and how does conversion take place in the congregation?

As above, if I had to define it, and with even less than the necessary amount of consideration required, I would say conversion is the act of choosing to pursue the Christian faith as one’s primary path for spiritual growth and development, of accepting the idea of God’s gift of redemption through the sacrifice made by Jesus Christ as a foundational premise, and taking that leap of faith as a basis for moving forward with your life. And this next statement is in no way meant to be trite or clichéd, but I believe conversion takes place in our midst simply by an act of God. Our denomination has an annual survey that our group has had great difficulty filling out in the past, in part because of questions along the lines of “how many people have been converted” etc. Our answer has tended to be “none” for all such questions. We have converted no one, ever, in my opinion. But perhaps we will one day discover that, by our existence and persistence as a church and the actions we have taken over the years, some number of people have become more open to God acting in their lives. So conversion takes place within our group miraculously? Differently for each person? If it has happened at all?

Question 4: Circle all of the statements below that described what you have experienced:

  • My conversion took place over a period of time and dating the exact date is difficult.  [Definitely]
  • I was connected to a Christian community before I was converted.  [Yes, although I don’t know that that connection was really much of a contribution to my actual conversion. May in fact have been an impediment.]
  • I was raised in a non-churchgoing home.  [ Yes and no. Depends on the particular snapshot in time.]
  • I was raised in a Christian home.  [ Yes. ]

Questions 5 to 9:

Question 5:  Salvation = 2.5

Question 6:  Born-again = 2.5

Question 7:  Conversion = 2.5

Question 8:  Sudden conversion = 2.5

Question 9:  Progressive conversion = 2.5

Note by Winton Pei: I would rank all of them between 1 and 3, depending on my mood. For statistical purposes, you can put me down for 2 on all of them. But speaking outside of that context, I don’t find any of those terms particularly useful. So really, 3 for all?

Question 10: What is your denominational affiliation?  If none, please designate a denomination that might be similar.

The sol cafe is nominally part of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, but my personal “affiliation” to the Alliance is peripheral at best, antagonistic in many instances. Raised in the Baptist tradition, but really liked the last Anglican service I attended? I guess the problem is that I don’t know enough about one denomination over another to really say. And nor do I really want to when it comes right down to it. As you well know, what we do at the sol cafe is kind of like what other little pockets of people are doing in many denominations, but for me the sol cafe has been the only church for which I will comfortably claim an affiliation, and even then with some reservations, and it is unlike anything else within the denomination. So truly, I prefer to say no denominational affiliation, and none wanted, thank you.

Notes by Bob Whitesel: The relational nature of an Internet café lends itself to conversation by socialization. But, Pei also adds that this process is enhanced when lived out in publicly, noting conversion results from “the personal exploration and practice of our faith in public spaces.” The use of an Internet café that is open to everyone all week long fosters a public community of faith and not an insolated society. This also makes their gathering space less threatening to people who may have had unpleasant experiences in typical church facilities. Pei notes they use “spaces that are less threatening to people who may otherwise have reason to ignore, resist or protest the possibilities that the Christian faith offers…” On a more disquieting note, Pei observes that the progressive conversion they are experiencing (and which their denomination seems not to be measuring) tends to lead to less certainly about to whom and when conversion happens. Here we are seeing what Richard Peace describes as the work of conversion undergoing a “drift from the center of one’s ecclesiastical vision.”[xxxii] Pei experienced conversion by socialization and now he is drawn to a faith community that meets in a public place and which largely experiences progressive conversion. The relationship between personal conversionary history and one’s chosen involvement in the conversion of others begs further study. Regarding terms, Pei is equally uncomfortable with all of those offered saying, “I don’t find any of those terms particularly useful.” According to his explanation, Pei seems to find the mysterious and inexpressible move of the Holy Spirit as more useful in describing what takes place in the community. As such it is experience, and not terminology, that validates his partnership in the missio Dei. Thus, Pei appears comfortable with this community (rather than with a broader denomination) and finds his ministry through kinship.

Questions for further research.

  • To what degree and/or at what pace does the work of conversion drift from the center of one’s ecclesial vision if the community is primarily experiencing conversion by socialization?
  • What role does public acknowledgement play in conversion by socialization?
  • Are congregations that embrace a view of conversion at odds with their denominational perspective, more or less likely to distance themselves from the denominational network?

Rebecca Ver Straten-McSparran

Founder and former pastor of Tribe of LA

Background:[xxxiii] This church plant began in the living room of pastor Rebecca Ver Straten-McSparran, a former associate pastor at a United Church of Christ and director of the L.A. Film Studies Center. It has maintained roughly 25-55 in attendance, but this church’s use of drumming circles for worship has led to an influence that belies it’s size. Christian choruses, set to drumming music, fashioned a church that was attractive to people from the Two-thirds World (most of which is rhythmic orientated). Sunday evening gatherings began with a “love feast” (free communal meal) followed by communion administered by Ver Straten-McSparran to participants as they sat around tables. A drumming circle then gathered with participation from almost all attendees for 25 minutes of worship choruses accompanied primarily by drums. As mentioned earlier, this has led to a multi-national congregation. Ver Straten-McSparran concluded with a 25 minute sermon with questions from the audience. The unique World-beat style music and the communal experience led this church to become as a model for churches reaching out in multi-ethnic urban areas.

Question 1: Please state you name and current occupation.

Rebecca Ver Straten-McSparran, director of the L.A. Film Studies Center and professor. (Note from Rebecca Ver Straten-McSparran) Although I am not currently pastoring a church, I am the director of a program for Christian college students in film and do much pastoring with them.  I left my church, Tribe, not at all due to any conflict but because God clearly was leading me in a different direction.  I worked seven days a week for seven years in order to be able to serve my church and I was very exhausted.  I also felt it was time for the church to go to a new level with new leadership, and recommended the pastor, Deb Hirsch (husband is writer/speaker Alan Hirsch) who is now there.  The church has indeed taken a slightly different direction but it is healthy and good, and I am very proud of it.  It has grown.  My own children are still involved in leadership there, although my husband and I thought it best that we not attend so that they could gain their own wings.

Question 2: How do you define evangelism and how does evangelism take place in your congregation?

Evangelism is simply the sharing of the Good News of God in Jesus Christ.  There are as many ways that our congregation enacts evangelism as there are people.  There is not one way.  Most, however, are not comfortable with a forthright or programmatic evangelism so there is not a planned method or group that has that as their verbal objective.  They are more comfortable to share their life with people and if it arises specifically then they share who they are.  However, a couple of the lay leaders definitely have the gift of evangelism and pursue it through relationships within our setting, context and friends in the Burning Man community.  They are well respected in the church for their gift.  I can think of a couple of others who share this in different contexts.

Question 3:  How do you define conversion and how does conversion take place in the congregation?

I have seen conversion (rather dramatic) occur through the taking of the Lord’s Supper (once) or just participation within the community and the recognition that the individual is missing something in their life and that they need Jesus and this community.  This has occurred for a wide variety of people from Burning Man people who were not at all inclined toward the gospel to intellectuals with many questions to some Muslims.  The greatest gift of this group has been to lovingly receive people who would never attend a regular church as well as misfits and to draw them in, creating a long lasting circle of love around them.  It is the most beautiful thing to see them grow strong and give back with whole hearts.  Quite a few have found healing, had their perspective of church dramatically changed, and felt called to move back into a more typical church setting.

Question 4: Circle all of the statements below that described what you have experienced:

  • My conversion was a experience that I can date exactly.
  • I was connected to a Christian community before I was converted.
  • I was raised in a Christian home.

Questions 5 to 9:

Question 5:  Salvation = 5

Question 6:  Born-again = 2

Question 7:  Conversion = 4

Question 8:  Sudden conversion = 4

Question 9:  Progressive conversion = 4

Question 10: What is your denominational affiliation?  If none, please designate a denomination that might be similar.

Ordained – National Association of Congregational Christian Churches (NACCC); present attendance – PCUSA

Notes by Bob Whitesel: Though Ver Straten-McSparran comes from a background in mainline denominationalism, her theology appears to be largely evangelical. She embraces a non-confrontational and spontaneous (i.e. in her terms not “forthright or programmatic”) evangelism. Subsequently, she observes that this youthful church embraces a more progressive experience with evangelism. Still, she notes that a couple lay leaders possess the “gift of evangelism,” with resultant fruit as well as respect within their church fellowship. Of all the emerging churches studied, Ver Straten-McSparran is the only one to note what in Figure 1 Scot McKnight and Richard Peace call conversion by “liturgical acts.”[xxxiv] It is interesting that this church has an evangelistic outreach to the libertine Burning Man celebrations in the desert. The gathering is of people who in her words, “were not at all inclined toward the gospel to intellectuals.” It was the socialization of evangelism that connected with these libertine participants, which was articulated by Ver Straten-McSparran as “creating a long lasting circle of love around them.” She notes that as a result “quite a few have …. felt called to move back into a more typical church setting.” Ver Straten-McSparran’s own conversion experience seems to be a combination of socialization (i.e. she was raised in a Christian home and connected to a Christian community before conversion) and sudden conversion (which she personally can date). Finally, when beginning this research it was the assumption of the author that emerging leaders might prefer the word “conversion” (as a turning toward a more altruistic direction) over the term “salvation” (which emphasizes the more self-centered goal of rescue from punishment). However, many of the respondents in this survey continue to prefer “salvation” over the term “conversion” (though slightly so), which begs further study.

Questions for further research.

  • To what degree does the religious mixture of a community bear on a church’s view of evangelism? Are culturally pluralistic communities more likely to embrace progressive evangelism due to a syncretistic approach in other areas of life? Or is the pluralistic milieu more likely to result in sudden conversion with a visual and vigorous break from past religious history?
  • Why does the potentially less altruistic term “salvation” continue to rank higher than the feasibly more selfless idiom “conversion?” Is this a product of being raised in a Christian milieu (e.g. a Christian home), a product of community (external or internal) preferences, or the remnants of No. America’s evangelical awakenings?

 Summation

Conclusions for each case study along with questions for further study were included earlier in this article, and thus are superfluous here. However, a few final thoughts are in order.

First, this survey was conducted over a six week period and perhaps because of time constraints some churches did not respond. The non-respondents tended to be the larger churches. Increasing response occurred as the churches were smaller in size. This may indicate a growing administrative focus, rather than a theological reflection among its leaders. Respondents are noted below in italics.

Large churches 401+

10,000+ Mars Hill in Grandville, MI – no response.

1,700+ St. Thomas/Philadelphia Church in Sheffield, UK), – no response.

Medium congregations 225-400

355+, Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, CA – response.

350-400, Scum of the Earth in Denver, CO – no response.

250+, Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis, MN – no response.

Awkward-sized churches 100-225

155+, The Bridge in Phoenix, AZ – response

125+, Bluer in Minneapolis, MN, – no response.

Smaller churches less than 100

30-55 the sole café in Edmonton, AB, – response

65+ Freeway in Baton Rouge, LA, – response

40-55, Church of the Apostles, Seattle, WA;

50-75, One Place, Phoenix, AZ;– no response.[xxxv]

25-55, Tribe of LA, Los Angeles, CA – response

Secondly, it appears that congregations from my previous research continue to embrace conversion as a spiritual waypoint. Though many leaders had sudden conversion experiences, most found their churches experienced a more progressive conversion process. Another follow-up study in five years might throw light on whether conversion is trending downward in importance, if balance between progressive/sudden conversion is being maintained, and/or if conversion is increasingly important in these emerging congregations.

 

 

About the author: Bob Whitesel holds M.Div., D.Min. and Ph.D. degrees from Fuller Theological Seminary, where he was awarded the Donald A. McGavran Award for outstanding scholarship in Church Growth. He is the author of nine books, including the award-winning Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change In Your Church (2008), and the series on evangelism: Spiritual Waypoints: Helping Other Navigate the Journey (2010) and Waypoint: Navigating Your Spiritual Journey (2010). His upcoming book (Nov. 2011) describes tomorrow’s leadership patterns and is titled ORGANIX: The Signs of Millennial Leadership (Abingdon Press). He serves as Professor of Missional Leadership at Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University and is a sought-after speaker and consultant. http://www.wesley.indwes.edu BobWhitesel.com

 

Endnotes:

[i] For the sake of consistency, I differentiated churches by their self-reported Sunday attendance.

[ii] Gary L. McIntosh, One Size Doesn’t Fit All: Bringing Out the Best in Any Size Church (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Fleming H. Revell, 1999), pp. 17 – 19.

[iii] Lyle E. Schaller, The Multiple Staff and the Larger Church (Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 1980), pp. 27-35.

[iv] See the figure 1.7 comparing Schaller and McIntosh’s designations for congregational style in Bob Whitesel and Kent R. Hunter, A House Divided: Bridging the Generation Gaps in Your Church (Abingdon Press, 2000), -. 29

[v] A more popular, yet narrow and thus I to me less satisfying, definition has been tendered by Neil Cole who defines an organic church in more communal terms and as a reaction to an over-organized church. Cole says an organic organization is “not defined by a meeting … (but) when we do have meetings, we do not presume to have an agenda, but to gather, listen to God and one another” (Neil Cole, response to the question by Keith Giles, “What is your definition of Organic Church?” What is Organic Church? An Interview with Neil Cole and Frank Viola (Signal Hill, CA: Church Multiplication Resources, Sept. 20, 2010). Following this communal and reactionary track, Frank Viola states he “takes his cue from (T. Austin) Sparks” who reacted strongly against the over-organized church of his day avowing, “God’s way and law of fullness is that of organic life.… This means that everything comes from the inside. Function, order, and fruit issue from this law of life within… Organized Christianity has entirely reversed this order” Frank Viola, “Why Organic Church is Not Exactly a Movement,” Christianity Today (Carol Stream, IL: January 13, 2010).

[vi] James Engel, Contemporary Christian Communication: Its Theory And Practice, (New York: Thomas Nelson, 1979), pp. 93-95.

[vii] Howard Snyder, The Problem of Wineskins (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1975), p. 157.

[viii] Alan Roxburgh, “Missional Leadership: Equipping God’s People for Mission,” Missional Church, p. 193.

[ix] Charles B. Singletary, “Organic Growth: A Critical Dimension for the Church,” Church Growth State of the Art, ed. C. Peter Wagner, with Win Arn and Elmer Towns (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale, 1988), p. 114.

[x] Alistair Davidson, Antonio Gramsci: Toward an Intellectual Biography (London: Merlin Press, 1987).

[xi] Bob Whitesel, Inside the Organic Church : Learning from 12 Emerging Congregations (Abingdon Press, 2006), p. xxvi.

[xii] Mary Jo Hatch, Organization Theory: Modern, Symbolic and Postmodern Perspectives (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 53-54.

[xiii] Mary Jo Hatch, Organization Theory: Modern, Symbolic and Postmodern Perspectives (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 54

[xiv] John Leland, “Hip New Churches Pray to a Different Drummer,” The New York Times, February 18, 2004. Leland states, “The congregations vary in denomination, but most are from the evangelical side of Protestantism….”

[xv] Lewis A. Drummond, Reaching Generation Next: Effective Evangelism in Today’s Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002), 179.

[xvi] John Stott, ed., Evangelism and Social Responsibility: An Evangelical Commitment (Lausanne Committee for Evangelism and the World Evangelical Fellowship, 1982), 23.

[xvii] Donald B. Kraybill, The Upside-Down Kingdom (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1978, 2003).

[xviii] James F. Engel, The Church Growth Bulletin (Fuller Institute of Church Growth, Pasadena, CA: 1973).

[xix] Robert Clinton, The Making of a Leader: Recognizing the Lessons and Stages of Leadership Development (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1988), 30.

[xx] Examples are given in each chapter of Inside the Organic Church: Learning from 12 Emerging Congregations (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006).

[xxi] Craig Van Gelder, “Understanding North America Culture,” Missional Church, p. 37.

[xxii] Eddie Gibbs, Church Next: Quantum Changes in How We Do Ministry (Downers Grove, ILL: InterVaristy Press, 2000), p. 25

[xxiii] “Figure 7.1 Types of Conversion” used with permission from Bob Whitesel, Spiritual Waypoints: Helping Others Navigate the Journey (Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2010), pp. 142-143.

[xxiv] These questions were not extensively vetted but were intended to foster a baseline understanding of interviewees’ perspectives on evangelism and conversion.

[xxv] Bob Whitesel, Inside the Organic Church : Learning from 12 Emerging Congregations (Abingdon Press, 2006).

[xxvi] “Freeway,” Inside the Organic Church: Learning from 12 Emerging Congregations (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006), pp. 51-75.

[xxvii] “The Bridge,” Inside the Organic Church: Learning from 12 Emerging Congregations (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006), pp. 31-41.

[xxviii] Welcome to the Word & Deed Network, http://www.evangelicalsforsocialaction.org/page.aspx?pid=308

[xxix] “Vintage Faith Church,” Inside the Organic Church: Learning from 12 Emerging Congregations (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006), pp. 42-50.

[xxx] Richard Peace, “Conflicting Understandings of Christian Conversion: A Missiological Challenge,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research, Vol. 28, No. 1, 8

[xxxi] “the sol cafe,” Inside the Organic Church: Learning from 12 Emerging Congregations (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006), pp. 13-20.

[xxxii] Richard Peace, “Conflicting Understandings of Christian Conversion: A Missiological Challenge,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research, Vol. 28, No. 1, 8

[xxxiii] “Tribe of Los Angeles,” Inside the Organic Church: Learning from 12 Emerging Congregations (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006), pp. 98-107.

[xxxiv] C.f. Scot McKnight, Turning to Jesus: The Sociology of Conversion in the Gospels and Richard Peace, “Conflicting Understandings of Christian Conversion: A Missiological Challenge,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research, Vol. 28, No. 1, 8.

[xxxv] This is the only case study church from the original sample that appears to have been closed since the initial study.

Speaking hashtag #Kingswood2018

CULTURE & An Overview of Richard Niebuhr & Charles Kraft’s 4 Views of “Christ & Culture”

by Bob Whitesel, excerpted with permission from Inside the Organic Church: Learning from 12 Emerging Congregations (Abingdon Press, 2006, pp. 55-57).

Since modern culture is constantly adjusting and metamorphosing, the task of translating the Good News without surrendering its truth or disfiguring it is paramount and ongoing. This arduous task begins with thorough and careful examination of a culture. Anthropologist Paul Hiebert described culture as, “an integrated system of learned patterns of behavior, ideas and products characteristic of a society.”(1) Scrutiny of such an elaborate system is not for an immature Christian, since it requires investigating and evaluating a culture without being tainted by its more sordid elements.

There is a tension between Christ and culture that must be examined. Richard Niebuhr in his classic treatise Christ and Culture suggested that there are several ways to look at Christ’s interaction with culture.(3)

Christ … Against culture.

One is “Christ against culture” a view embraced by the early church father Tertullian. In this view culture is seen as evil, thus requiring Christians to withdraw and insulate themselves, resulting in a monastic response. Charles Kraft exposes three fallacies in this view, demonstrating it is not in keeping Paul’s view that “nothing is unclean of itself” (Romans 14:14).(4)

Christ … Above Culture (in Synthesis or in Paradox)

Another view Niebuhr called “Christ Above Culture” which he divided into sub-categories.(5)

  • Christ Above Culture in Synthesis” was held by Thomas Aquinas and views Jesus as the restorer of institutions of true society. This view believes that Christianity will one day totally transform culture, perhaps into a millennial peace. In another sub-category,
  • Christ Above Culture in Paradox,” Christ is seen above but in such tension with culture that a messy, muddled relationship results. Martin Luther grappled with this perspective, as did modern writer Mike Yaconelli who called this “messy spirituality.”(6)

Christ … Above but Transformer of Culture

However, a more valid sub-category may be “Christ Above but Transformer of Culture.” Embraced by Augustine, John Calvin, and John Wesley this view sees culture as corrupt but convertible.(7)

Christ … Above but Working Through Culture

Kraft built upon this his position called “Christ above but working through culture,” explaining that “God chooses the cultural milieu in which humans are immersed as the arena of his interaction with people.”(8) Eddie Gibbs further elaborates that “such an approach represents a deliberate self-limiting on the part of God in order to speak in understandable terms and with perceived relevance on the part of the hearer. He acts redemptively with regard to culture, which includes judgment on some elements, but also affirmation in other areas, and a transformation of the whole.”(9)

If the “Christ above but working through culture” truly defines the tension and nexus between Christ and culture, then the job of the Christian communicator becomes challenging if not precarious. Therefore, our strategy must not conclude simply with step 1, investigating and examining culture, but also must continue through step 2, sifting and judging its elements. Here the prudent communicator must make qualitative judgments based upon Scripture, ethics, personal belief and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

…The end result of this examination or sifting, must be a rejection of elements in conflict with Christ, but also an affirmation of those elements that are not so. I found that leaders of the organic church usually sift carefully through the movies, television shows, music, games, online resources and literature of young people. And they routinely explain in their sermons how God judges some aspects of postmodern culture, accepts other elements such as an emphasis on helping the needy, and has as a goal the transformation of the whole.(10)

The Christian communicator wishing to make the Good News relevant today must carefully examine the media barrage engulfing young people, understand its messages, while at the same time sifting elements that are opposed to Christ and identifying touchstones that can make connections with unchurched peopled.

Footnotes:

1. Paul Hiebert, Cultural Anthropology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1983), p. 25.
2. Bob Whitesel, Growth By Accident, Death By Planning, op. cit., p. 26.
3. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture (New York: Harper & Row, 1951). A second view is beyond the scope of our discussion. Labeled by Niebuhr “Christ of culture,” it was embraced by early Gnostic heretics. They interpreted Christ through cultural trends, rejecting any claims of Christ that conflicted with their culture. Counter to this, Isaiah 55:8 reminds us that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, or our ways his ways.
4. Charles H. Kraft, Christianity in Culture, (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1979), pp. 105-106.
5. Kraft, ibid., pp. 108-115 sees five subdivisions of the “Christ Above Culture” position. However, for this discussion only three are required. The reader seeking more exhaustive insights will benefit from a careful exploration of Kraft’s work.
6. Mike Yaconelli, Messy Spirituality (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2002). Yaconelli’s viewpoint has been popular among postmodern Christians, And, before his untimely death, Yaconelli was in demand as a lecturer. Young people often saw in his perspective one more in keeping with their untidy journey towards discipleship. To understand the angst and anxiety many young people sense today between their Christian understanding and their vacillating demeanor, see Yaconelli’s insightful volume.
7. Charles H. Kraft, Christianity in Culture, p. 113.
8. ibid., p. 114.
9. Eddie Gibbs, I Believe in Church Growth, (Grand Rapids, Mich,: Eerdmans, 1981), p. 92.
10. In my travels through the organic church, I found it’s leaders usually approached the rejection or affirmation of cultural elements in a circumspect and serious manner. Whether it was the “discothèque clubbers” of England who had to decide at what point youthful fashions became lewd, or the film clips that Freeway employed to illustrate a point; young organic leaders typically see the rejection of base elements of culture as not only required, but judicious.

WORSHIP & Fewer Churches Changing Worship Style / More Churches Less Innovative #AmericanCongregationsStudy

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: My colleague Aaron Earls, while analyzing Hartford Seminary’s American Congregations 2015 study, points out that innovation in worship is declining today. Earls sums up how this impacts churches by stating, “While it may signal less conflict over worship changes, less innovation does make churches less likely to grow or be healthy, according to the American Congregations report.” Relevant and engaging worship is critical for the sake of church mission and so she needs to launch into innovative worship again. While writing the book “Inside the Organic Church: Learning from 12 Emerging Congregations” one major takeaway was that innovative worship kept younger churches not only growing, but their worship more joyful too. Read Earl’s article for good insights based on Hartford Seminary’s report.

Fewer Churches Changing Worship Style
by Aaron Earls, Facts & Trends, 3/31/16.

Most churches appear to have settled on their preferred worship style, according to the American Congregations 2015 study, as the growth of contemporary music in worship has “largely plateaued” and churches’ willingness to change worship has declined over the last five years…

These three points demonstrate the static nature of worship in American churches.

1. Most see their church worship as similar to five years ago. When asked to describe their services as joyful, reverent, or thought provoking, there were only slight variations in the last five years.

Those describing their worship as very joyful grew less than 1 percent, while those calling their worship reverent decreased by slightly more than 2 percent. The percentage saying it was thought provoking remained the same.

2. Contemporary worship has plateaued. To avoid a vague definition of contemporary worship, researchers began asking churches if they used electric guitars. After a relatively large jump in usage toward the beginning of the century, growth has stalled.

Churches using electric guitars climbed almost 10 percent from 2000 to 2005, but since then growth has been under 2 percent in the last 10 years.

3. Fewer churches describe their worship as innovative. Churches where worship is described as “quite or very innovative” declined from 38 percent to 32 percent.

While it may signal less conflict over worship changes, less innovation does make churches less likely to grow or be healthy, according to the American Congregations report…

Read more at … http://factsandtrends.net/2016/03/17/fewer-churches-changing-worship-style/#.Vv0MLGH3aJI

PRAYER & Creative Ideas That Foster “Spaces for Prayer” at Vintage Faith Church, Santa Cruz, Calif.

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 11/27/15.

The following excerpt from my book, Inside the Organic Church: Learning from 12 Emerging Congregations (Abingdon Press) describes creative ideas that encourage prayer. It looks at how Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California creates “spaces” for prayer.  These ideas can help leaders create a more robust prayer life in a church.

Chapter 5: Vintage Faith Church

The campus of Santa Cruz Bible Church seemed the antithesis of an organic church setting.  Neatly trimmed hedges embraced meandering sidewalks amid beautiful window-laden buildings. Vintage Faith Church had grown out of the college ministry of this congregation, and currently worshipped in this boomer church’s multipurpose worship gymnasium.1  I wondered how Vintage Faith could create in this utilitarian space an atmosphere engendering the mystery and wonder of God so preferred in organic milieus.

The answer arrived as I entered.  Dark curtaining surrounded me on all sides.  Vintage Faith’s simple stage was off center, and thrust into the audience.  Three large media screens were placed along a long wall, and on the ends of the auditorium were two “mood walls” where colorful yet muted images of young people lifting their hands in worship imbued this room with a 270-degree sense of expectation.  A six-foot metal cross graced the center of the stage, flanked by two candles and a large oil painting depicting a stylized cross.  And though this was a bright sunny day, the low lighting, visual images, curtaining, candles, and encompassing artwork transformed a contemporary gymnasium into a peaceful, subdued, and sacred space.2

Dashboard:

  • Church: Vintage Faith Church
  • Leaders Dan Kimball (pastor), Josh Fox (pastor of musical worship), Robert Namba (pastor of spiritual formation), Hannah Mello (director of worship arts) Kristin Culman (communications and hospitality)
  • Location Santa Cruz, California
  • Affiliation Nondenominational, though assistance is provided by Santa Cruz Bible Church.
  • Size 375-450  “That’s an estimate,” states Dan Kimball.  “We don’t count people, we count leaders”
  • Audience: Multiple generations, college students, university personnel and faculty, artists, and pre-Christians – people who are spiritually sensitive
  • Website http://www.vintagechurch.org

Let sacred spaces support your mission.

There was nothing wrong with the aesthetics of the Santa Cruz Bible Church auditorium, for it carried the feel of a conference center or a lecture hall.  A boomer predilection for such venues may be due to an emphasis on the church’s teaching role.  However, the lighting, art, mood walls, candles, prayer cove, etc. at Vintage Faith may indicate a Generation X preference for balancing head knowledge with heartfelt experience.  Vintage Faith created a powerful and encircling atmosphere of mystery, wonder, learning and supernatural encounter.

The following are some of the ways Vintage Faith creates sacred spaces.3

Curtains make the institutional feel of a multi-purpose auditorium more intimate and private.  Though Vintage Faith worships in an auditorium that will hold 700+, the encircling curtains help attendees feel they are in a private and personal encounter with God.

Prayer areas are created between the curtains and the outer walls.  Large throw pillows, candles and rugs not only create a 270-degree cocoon of prayer, but also keep prayer a focus.

A prayer cove beyond an arched trellis offers a space for extended times of prayer with intercessors.  I have observed that over time a prayer room’s proximity to the platform can wane, paralleling a distancing of prayer from centrality in a growing congregation.4  Vintage Faith avoids this, by placing their prayer cove near the stage.

Seating includes tables as well as rows of chairs.  Tables allow interaction for those desiring it, while forward facing chairs allow other attendees a degree of anonymity.

The platform was off center, so that a large cross was centered in the auditorium expressing the centrality of Jesus.  Subsequently, musicians and the lectern were not centrally located, nor the focus.

Low lighting and candles create a sense of reverence, expectation and mystery.  The candles are also “symbolic of Jesus as the light of the world,” stated Kimball.  Though lighting was raised slightly during the sermon so notes could be taken, their muted luminosity kept the focus off of the leaders, the audience and other extraneous distractions.

Two mood walls were some of the more creative elements.  To create this, the end walls of the auditorium were left bare above the eight foot high curtaining.  On the white wall above video projectors slowly and appropriately beamed images correlating to the theme of the night.  This worked remarkably well, creating a 270-degree experience (the rear wall was not utilized).

Art of diverse mediums was displayed on the stage and around the room.  Large paintings in genres ranging from classic to post-impressionism ringed the room.  In addition, congregants were encouraged to participate in interactive artwork, which during my visit included a large mosaic that would upon completion be displayed in the auditorium.

A final caveat.  These examples should serve as models to assist others in sketching their own indigenized elements.  They are not to be followed unswervingly, but rather as examples to forge a coalition between church leaders and artists.

Footnotes:

1. This multi-purpose gymnasium featured basketballs courts, a stage recessed into one wall, and a cheery, if somewhat industrial, ambiance.  Such boomer predilection for light, airy and multi-use sacred spaces seems a reaction to the builder generation’s stained glass, dark wood and inflexible worship venues

2. Vintage Faith’s goal is to have a ministry center near downtown Santa Cruz and rent a larger worship gathering space.  However, presently they are doing a remarkably adept job at creating a sacred space in a gymnasium

3. Adapted from the Vintage Faith Church bulletin, June 5, 2005.  For exhaustive ideas for creating sacred space see Dan Kimball’s helpful book written with David Crowder and Sally Morgenthaler titled Emerging Worship: Creating Worship Gatherings for New Generations (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2004).

4.  See “Missteps with Prayer” in Bob Whitesel, Growth By Accident, Death by Planning: How Not to Kill a Growing Congregation, pp. 43-53

CULTURE & Entertaining Videos on Cultural Time-warps

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 10/22/15.

In a leadership exercise on this wiki (linked here) I posited the thesis that people may associate the cultural arts associated with the time they were saved, with the preferred artist expression to reach people today.  In other words, if a person was saved when gospel quartet music was played, will they associate that style of music with evangelism even today.  Thus, the leadership exercise asked, “Do people get stuck in a cultural ‘time-warp’ from the era in which they were saved?

One student pointed out that my question about “Cultural Time Warps” should really be about the time when a Christian experienced rapid spiritual growth and not necessarily when they were saved. That is because some people may have a salvation experience, and then enter a period of slow (or no 😦 growth. That is a good point.

But, the gist of the leadership exercise is that people can get stuck in a “cultural time-warp” at the period when they experienced new birth and/or rapid spiritual growth. The result is that people connect music, styles, etc. associated with the time of their salvation/growth with “spiritually powerful” songs, styles, etc..  They feel the songs that impacted them, will always impact others.

And, this is normal but not beneficial.  That is because the result can be that people will expect (and subtly require) others be touched by the same cultural songs, styles, etc. that they once enjoyed.

Here are some videos that can serve as an example.

Video A: The first was taken during the Jesus Movement of the late 60s and early 70s.  I got saved then. And, this was how the ideal worship happened back then:


Video B: This next video is how Jesus Movement morphed into:


Video C: Here now is an example of how worship can happen in the e-world of today:

Now here is followup Leadership Exercise.

Which is better?  How are they different?

Actually, A and C are very organic and much the same, only one eschewed technology (e.g. it is a cappella – which means “in the style of Medieval church music”) and the other relies on technology.  As a person who has researched and experienced both the Jesus Movement and the Emerging Movement, I have pointed out that they are both very organic and similar (Inside the Organic Church, 2006, pp. xxiii-xxxiii).

The middle example (Video B) is what many Jesus Movement boomers grew to prefer.  It is more event-orientated and resembles more of a concert format.  For many boomers this could be their idea Sunday morning worship expression.

I think you would agree that these worship expressions are sometimes dissimilar, and at other times similar.  And, that all three are valid, just for different people and different times.  Thus, churches that are seeking to reach out to multiple cultures will want to have multiple worship expressions, so 2+ cultures can be reached.  And, they may need to be at separate venues, for different cultures prefer different styles.  When a church accommodates different cultural styles, it makes the church more inclusive, diverse and long-lived.

SPIRITUAL FORMATION & 4 Characteristics of Emotionally Healthy Churches #PeteScazerro

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: I wrote about Pete Scazzero and the church he leads as one example of an organic congregation in my book “Inside the Organic Church” (Abingdon Press). That is because this church has embraced practices that keep it tightly connected to the Heavenly Father. They have avoided what I call “the busyness trap.” Read here a post by Pete to get an overview to the thinking behind his excellent books.

by Peter Scazzero, 8/15/15.

For years I believed if I could simply identify the right planning and decision-making process, we would make good decisions at New Life, the church I pastor. That, it turned out, was both naïve and misguided. Over a 20-year period, however, the dramatic difference between our standard process and emotionally healthy planning and decision-making became crystal clear.

emotionalhealthThe first is the foundation from which all the others follow — defining success as radically doing God’s will.

1. We see success as radically doing God’s will — not merely growing.

From the time I became a Christian, I believed intellectually that listening for God’s will was vitally important. But it wasn’t until a four-month contemplative sabbatical in 2003-2004 that my approach to planning and decision-making was utterly transformed. As a result, my definition of success so broadened and deepened that my leadership and my approach to discerning God’s will experienced an extreme makeover.

What happened? I slowed down my life so I could spend much more time being with God. Listening for and surrendering to God’s will became the focus of my life — personally and in leadership. I realized that New Life had one objective: to become what God had called us to become — regardless of where that might lead us. That would be the sole marker of our success…

2. We create a space for heart preparation.

In emotionally healthy planning and decision-making, we don’t simply open meetings with prayer and then leap headlong into our agenda. We begin by creating a space for heart preparation. We intentionally step back from the distractions and pressures that surround us so we can discern and follow God’s will. This preparation takes place on two levels — personal heart preparation and team heart preparation.

Personal Heart Preparation: before entering a meeting room, our first priority as leaders is to prepare our heart with God. How much time is needed? That depends on the level of the decision or plans being made and how much internal noise might be cluttering your inner life at the moment. The simple principle we follow at New Life is, the weightier the decision, the more time is required for preparation.

Jesus models this kind of heart preparation for us. Before choosing the Twelve, he stayed up all night (Luke 6:12-13). In order to discern the Father’s priorities in the midst of voices clamoring for him to stay in Capernaum, Jesus rose early in the morning for solitude (Luke 4:42-43). Jesus consistently engaged and then withdrew from people and the demands of ministry in order to pray alone (Luke 5:15). Perhaps most instructive of all is Jesus’ struggle to surrender to the will of his Father in Gethsemane. He struggled to surrender to the will of God, so we can be sure we will…

3. We pray for prudence.

Prudence is one of the most important character qualities or virtues for effective leaders. Without it, it is impossible to make good plans and decisions. Prudent people think ahead, giving careful thought to the long-term implications of their decisions. It’s how they exercise good judgment, which is one of the great themes of the book of Proverbs. Here are a few examples:

  • The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways. (Proverbs 14:8a)
  • Only simpletons believe everything they’re told! The prudent carefully consider their steps. (Proverbs 14:15)
  • The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty. (Proverbs 22:3)

Prudence has been called the “executive virtue,” meaning it enables us to think clearly and not be swept up by our impulses or emotions. Prudence is cautious and careful to provide for the future. Prudence asks, “Feelings aside, what is best in the long run?” It carefully considers all relevant factors, possibilities, difficulties, and outcomes. Perhaps most importantly, prudence refuses to rush — it is willing to wait on God for as long as it takes and to give the decision making process the time it needs…

4. We look for God in our limits.

Our limits may well be the last place we look for God. We want to conquer limits, plan around limits, deny limits, fight limits and break through limits. In standard leadership practice, we might even consider it a mark of courage or stepping out in faith to rebel against limits. But when we fail to look for God in our limits, we bypass God.

New Life, like every church, is constrained by limits. Our small building, our under-resourced neighborhood and our humble people — are just a few. But if I look for God in these limitations, instead of trying to get around them, I see something different. Our very limitations might well be transformed into our greatest means of introducing others to Jesus.

Remember the words of the apostle Paul? God’s power is made perfect in our weakness, not our strengths (2 Corinthians 12:7)…

Read more at … http://www.faithstreet.com/onfaith/2015/08/20/4-characteristics-emotionally-healthy-churches/37601

FACILITIES & Mega-church in a Mall? A Case Study #OrganicChurch

(Excerpted with permission from Inside the Organic Church: Learning from 12 Emerging Congregations by Bob Whitesel, Abingdon Press, 2006)

Chapter 3

Mars Hill, Grandville, MI

This is not your father’s mega-church.

A community preserves a sense of unity despite differences and forces that seek to splinter it… – Stiepan Mestrovic, postemotional sociologist and author[i]

First Encounters:

When visiting organic communities I have found it helpful to interview a person engaged in entry-level volunteer ministry. Such interactions often connect me with those who give an insightful appraisals. I soon encountered Doug Luyk, and explained to him the reason for my sojourn this morning with Mars Hill.

“This is a large church,” I mused. “What’s the key?” Expecting to hear about the pastor’s oratory skills, or about the church’s popular music ministry, Doug quickly replied, “It’s about small groups …. everyone needs to be in a small group. It’s the purpose and power behind Mars Hill. Small groups are the ‘church in the world,’ not just the church on Sunday.”

The remark was unexpected, but welcome. I wondered if Doug was a leader of a small group and thus might have a bias. But it soon became clear that Doug was simply a volunteer, who found small groups to be the glue that connected him to Mars Hill.

*OC Cover 64KDashboard (2006)

Church: Mars Hill

Leaders: Steve Webber (lead pastor), Rob Bell, Jr. (teaching pastor), Joe Hays (student ministries pastor), Denise Van Eck (community life pastor).

Location: The former Grandvillage Mall in Grandville, Michigan

Affiliation: Non-denominational.

Size: 10,000+ per week

Audience: people in their twenties to late-forties, middle to upper middle class, college/postmodern thinkers, multiple generations, dechurched and unchurched people

Website: http://www.mhbcmi.org

A Fusion of Rhythms:

Shared Rhythms

The Rhythm of Place

At first encounter, Mars Hill feels like a boomer mega-church,[ii] with a large auditorium filled three times on Sunday. The venue is a former mid-sized mall, in the auditorium of a former anchor tenant. With little decoration, the iron beams and metal roof give the impression of a warehouse; which could easily be mistaken for the habitat of boomers. However, a closer introspection of Mars Hill’s unassuming yet pervasive strategies reveals that this is not your father’ mega-church.

The Rhythm of Worship

The worship setting and format share common elements with boomer churches, perhaps more so than they do with many organic churches. Due to the congregation’s size, features of the organic church such as low-lighting, interactive stations, comfortable chairs, and the like were missing. And, the direct and concise format was similar to many boomer churches: twenty minutes of worship, an engaging sermon of forty minutes, followed by ten minutes of praise. Though the format was reminiscent of boomer congregations, the content was not, with a refreshingly modest and unpretentious spirit. This ability to create an unassuming ambiance amid a mega-sized congregation is a unique rhythm that will be discussed later in this chapter.

The worship music and its mode of presentation on the other hand paralleled other organic congregations. Worship songs by Matt Redman, Paul Oakley, and Delirious were given an edgy musical interpretation, that fused together a spiritual rallying call with personal submissiveness and introspection.

The culmination of this atmosphere led, as it so often does in organic congregations, not to an emphasis on the music, musicians, execution, or even my enjoyment … but rather on the majesty and supremacy of our Lord Jesus Christ…

Download the entire chapter here (not for public distribution … and if you like it or are helped please purchase the book): BOOK ©Whitesel EXCERPT – OC Chpt.13 Mars Hill MI

Footnotes:

[i] Stjepan G. Mestrovic, Postemotional Society (London: SAGE Publications, 1997), p. 95. This is Mestrovic’s summation of Ferdinand Tonnies classic arguments on the distinctions between communities and societies in Community and Society (New York: Harper and Row, [1887] 1963).

[ii] Former city-planner turned church growth consultant Lyle Schaller, tendered the first well-known classifications of church size. He labeled churches over 700 attendees as “mini-denominations,” since they function as a network of sub-congregations (Lyle E. Schaller, The Multiple Staff and the Larger Church [Nashville: Abin

gdon Press, 1980], p. 28; see also George G. Hunter III, The Contagious Congregation [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1979], p. 63). Gary McIntosh in his book, One Size Doesn’t Fit All: Bringing Out the Best in Any Size Church (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Fleming H. Revell, 1999, pp. 17-19) labels churches over

400 “large” and notes the “organizational basis” of their focus. While these labels are better descriptors for ecclesial management, the more trendy mega-church label has prevailed in popular culture, and customarily describes a church of over 1000 weekend attendees.

CHANGE & The 4 Forces That Control Church Change #BobWhitesel #ChurchExecutiveMagazine

by Bob Whitesel Ph.D., Church Executive Magazine, March 2010, pp. 21-22.

(Download the original article here:  ARTICLE_Four Forces-Whitesel (Church Executive Article)

CE Four Force Model p. 1Changing a Church is Challenging!

As a writer and professor of church management and growth, I have found that managing change is a daunting task for church leaders. Regrettably, in most seminaries, managing change is not taught. I thus began to plumb the depths of the mysterious workings of change in churches, and surprisingly I discovered that the process is not so mysterious nor unexamined.

A primary culprit for the failure of church change is because there are more forces pushing for change than church leaders usually recognize.   As a result most church change strategies are to narrow, because leaders usually address only one or two of the up to four forces that may be present.

Where did the Four Force Model come from?

Andrew Van de Ven and Marshall Poole are management researchers that have compiled an exhaustive study of organizational change (Poole and Van de Ven 2004). Based upon an analysis of hundreds of articles in prestigious management magazines and journals, they discovered that change theories revolve four forces that push or generate change (Poole and Van de Ven 1995).

These change forces are sometimes called “four basic motors of change” because they push an organization into change (Poole and Van de Ven 2004:6). Sometimes only one force is pushing for change, but often two, three or four forces combine to simultaneously push an organization through change. While Van de Ven and Poole noted the effect of the four forces upon theories of change, I have observed in my practice that these forces also give us clues to the tools that are necessary to help a church change.

Why are the four forces of change important?

If an organization, such as a church, is only addressing one or two forces pushing for change (the usual church strategy) and more forces are pushing for change (up to four), I believe that the change will be unsatisfying and incomplete. If not all of the forces pushing for change are addressed congregants can feel the change did not go far enough or address their concerns. Thus, church change is often inadvertently too narrow and rejected by congregants who feel there are other forces pushing for change. In my consulting practice, I have found that successful change strategies first discover how many forces are pushing your church toward change, and then use the appropriate tools to control each force that is present.

What are the four forces of change?

If we are to bring about healthy and unifying church change then all the forces pushing for change must be addressed. – Bob Whitesel

Van de Ven and Poole assigned technical names to these forces, which I have simplified for retention. I will first briefly describe each change force and then follow with examples of tools to control each.

Life Cycle Forces defined.

Life cycle forces are motors pushing for change because an organization is at a crisis point in its life cycle. This could be a church that has an aging congregation or a facility with a different ethnicity moving into the neighborhood. Churches that feel this force are often older congregants who are concerned that the church is not adequately reaching out to other cultures or generations. If a change strategy does not address their concerns about the longevity of the organization, they will not support the change for it does not address the force they feel pushing most robustly upon them.

Life Cycle Forces tools.

Tools to address life cycle forces usually involve crafting long-term plans for growth. This often begins with the “visioning” process. Subsequent tools include starting new services or ministries to reach new generations or cultures. This may require hiring staff from this new culture to help the church make the transformation into a new cultural life-cycle. Many church growth strategies address such life cycle forces.

Goal-oriented Forces defined.

Goal-orientated forces are powers that push for change because a goal has been created for the organization. This may be an attendance goal imposed upon the congregation by a denomination and/or the church leadership. BHAGS are management gurus Jim Collins and Jerry Porras’ way of fostering change with “Big Harry Audacious Goals” (Collins and Porras 2004).   Such goals often motivate leaders who see the bigger picture better than they see the mechanics of getting there. And, these forces may be generated by a personal vision or a biblical mandate (such as the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19). Goal-orientated forces are often associated with churches that are struggling to survive, mega churches or newly planted churches. While this force is often felt most acutely by top-level leadership, attendees often have trouble appreciating this force. This is because for many attendees there are other forces (such as life-cycle forces described above or dialectic forces below) that are more powerful.

Goal-oriented Forces tools.

Tools to address goal-orientated forces usually revolve around measurement and research. Donald McGavran, the father of the Church Growth Movement, said there is a “universal fog” in our churches that masks our appreciation for measurement (McGavran 1970). He also pointed out that there is no such reticence in the Bible. Thus, evaluation becomes an important tool for measuring goal-orientated progress and/or when a goal needs to be revamped. Though reaching goals is an important force pushing for change in churches, it is not the only force present. If leadership tries to motivate an entire congregation by goals alone, many congregants who are feeling the push of other change forces will deem the change insufficient and/or inauthentic.

Conflict-oriented Forces defined.

Conflict-orientated forces push a church toward change because there are opposing viewpoints in the congregation. Often this occurs when new concepts are introduced and they appear to conflict with previously held ideas. Needless to say many churches suffer from this. While churches comprehend that this is a widespread problem, my experience is that conflict resolution is poorly addressed in many congregations. My Ph.D. research revealed that conflict-resolution is even a weak area in church leadership writings. This omission may be because congregants feel that the church should be a peaceful place, and thus they often avoid conflict. But conflict is a powerful motor for those that feel conflicted or at odds with other attendees, and thus it too must be addressed.

Conflict-oriented Forces tools.

Tools to address conflict will be found in books and programs that foster conflict resolution. Compromise is the goal of these resources, but first each side must understand the other before they can find middle ground. Research has also shown that it is critical that church leaders go slow when introducing change until widespread clarity and some compromise has been accomplished (Starke and Dyck 1996; Dyck and Starke 1999). I have written an entire book on the six-steps of church compromise and how going too fast with new ideas usually dooms creative ideas (Whitesel 2003).

Trend-orientated Forces defined.

The reader must remember that most change is being pushed along by multiple motors at the same time, and thus an effective change strategy must be a collage of the tools listed. – Bob Whitesel

A final force often concurrently pushing for change is the trend-orientated force. This is a motor that drives change because some congregants want change because a new “trend” has evolved and appears to be working in other churches. Change proponents often push enthusiastically and unrelentingly for popular new ideas to be implemented. Often they do so without addressing the change forces pushing upon others (such as life-cycle or conflict-orientated forces). Thus, trend-orientated leaders are seen as dividing the congregation and/or not sensitive to the church’s unity and health.

Trend-orientated Forces tools.

The primary tools used to handle trend-orientated forces is to help all factions see that a popular program or strategy will only fix part of the problem, and that a successful approach must address all forces pushing for change.

Fashionable programs are usually beneficial, but are perceived by life-cycle and conflict-oriented leaders as incomplete or inauthentic. Another tool is to examine the trend carefully and adapt it to the local situation. Thus, leaders must slowly foster compromise, show how their strategy addresses the church life-cycle as well as demonstrates how a strategy can be measurable.

A collage of tools to address your four forces

There are three steps in holistic change. Step one is to determine which forces are pushing for change in your church. This inaugural steps means studying the above definitions with your leaders, reading appropriate books (see the endnotes) and using round-table discussions to create a list of the change forces evident in your church.

The second step is to list the change

Controlling Change

Step 1

Determine which of the four forces are pushing for change in your church.

Step 2

List the change forces by their relative strength.

Step 3

Create a collage of tools (from the lists in this article) to control all of the four forces pushing for change.

forces by their relative strength. Some forces will be pushing more forcefully, while others may be present but diminutive. The ranking is subjective, and thus it is important to get as many segments of the church involved as possible. Remember, some congregants may be ostracized or excluded from the leadership process, and yet they may be feeling the push of other forces. Thus, bring as many segments of the church as possible into this listing to ensure all forces pushing for change are identified and ranked.

Finally in step 3 create a collage of tools from the above lists to control change. Organization theorist Mary Jo Hatch believes most effective theories are “collages” or a patchwork of tactics (Hatch 1997). This is required because each local church is unique and the most effective strategies will be those adapted to all the forces present on the local level.

The future of changing churches: four force models.

Many books today are focused on encouraging church change. But few actually address how to do it. Yet, in my consulting practice I have noticed that it is not a desire to change that is missing, buy that most church leaders just don’t know “how” to create positive change. Understanding that there are often four forces pushing for change simultaneously, discovering the relative strength of each, and then combining tools to create a collage tactic are the first steps toward long-term and effective church change.

(The above was reprinted with permission from Church Executive Magazine.  Download the original article here:  ARTICLE_Four Forces-Whitesel (Church Executive Article)

Works Cited

Collins, Jim, and Jerry I. Porras. 2004. Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. New York, NY: Collins Business.

Dyck, Bruno, and Frederick A. Starke. 1999. The Formation of Breakaway Organizations: Observations and a Process Model. Administrative Science Quarterly 44:792-822.

Hatch, Mary Jo. 1997. Organization Theory: Modern, Symbolic and Postmodern Perspectives. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

McGavran, Donald A. 1970. Understanding Church Growth. rev. ed., 1980 ed. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Poole, Marshall Scott, and Andrew H. Van de Ven. 1995. Explaining Development and Change in Organizations. Academy of Management Review (20):510-540.

———, eds. 2004. Handbook of Organizational Change and Innovation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Starke, Frederick A., and Bruno Dyck. 1996. Upheavals in Congregations: The Causes and Outcomes of Splits. Review of Religious Research 38:159-174.

Whitesel, Bob. 2003. Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church Over Change (And What You Can Do About It). Nashville: Abingdon Press.

PRAYER & Emerging Ideas for Fostering Prayer in Church Services #InsideTheOrganicChurch

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel:  “The following is excerpted from Inside the Organic Church: Learning from 12 Emerging Congregations (Abingdon Press).  It is a list of the creative ideas that can encourage prayer which I experienced at Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California.”

Chapter 5: Vintage Faith Church

The campus of Santa Cruz Bible Church seemed the antithesis of an organic church setting.  Neatly trimmed hedges embraced meandering sidewalks amid beautiful window-laden buildings. Vintage Faith Church had grown out of the college ministry of this congregation, and currently worshipped in this boomer church’s multipurpose worship gymnasium.1  I wondered how Vintage Faith could create in this utilitarian space an atmosphere engendering the mystery and wonder of God so preferred in organic milieus.

The answer arrived as I entered.  Dark curtaining surrounded me on all sides.  Vintage Faith’s simple stage was off center, and thrust into the audience.  Three large media screens were placed along a long wall, and on the ends of the auditorium were two “mood walls” where colorful yet muted images of young people lifting their hands in worship imbued this room with a 270-degree sense of expectation.  A six-foot metal cross graced the center of the stage, flanked by two candles and a large oil painting depicting a stylized cross.  And though this was a bright sunny day, the low lighting, visual images, curtaining, candles, and encompassing artwork transformed a contemporary gymnasium into a peaceful, subdued, and sacred space.2

Dashboard:

Church: Vintage Faith Church, Santa Cruz, CA
Audience: Multiple generations, college students, university personnel and faculty, artists, and pre-Christians – people who are spiritually sensitive
Websitehttp://www.vintagechurch.org

Let sacred spaces support your mission.

There was nothing wrong with the aesthetics of the Santa Cruz Bible Church auditorium, for it carried the feel of a conference center or a lecture hall.  A boomer predilection for such venues may be due to an emphasis on the church’s teaching role.  However, the lighting, art, mood walls, candles, prayer cove, etc. at Vintage Faith may indicate a Generation X preference for balancing head knowledge with heartfelt experience.  Vintage Faith created a powerful and encircling atmosphere of mystery, wonder, learning and supernatural encounter.

The following are some of the ways Vintage Faith creates sacred spaces.3

Curtains make the institutional feel of a multi-purpose auditorium more intimate and private.  Though Vintage Faith worships in an auditorium that will hold 700+, the encircling curtains help attendees feel they are in a private and personal encounter with God.

Prayer areas are created between the curtains and the outer walls.  Large throw pillows, candles and rugs not only create a 270-degree cocoon of prayer, but also keep prayer a focus.

A prayer cove beyond an arched trellis offers a space for extended times of prayer with intercessors.  I have observed that over time a prayer room’s proximity to the platform can wane, paralleling a distancing of prayer from centrality in a growing congregation.4  Vintage Faith avoids this, by placing their prayer cove near the stage.

Seating includes tables as well as rows of chairs.  Tables allow interaction for those desiring it, while forward facing chairs allow other attendees a degree of anonymity.

The platform was off center, so that a large cross was centered in the auditorium expressing the centrality of Jesus.  Subsequently, musicians and the lectern were not centrally located, nor the focus.

Low lighting and candles create a sense of reverence, expectation and mystery.  The candles are also “symbolic of Jesus as the light of the world,” stated Kimball.  Though lighting was raised slightly during the sermon so notes could be taken, their muted luminosity kept the focus off of the leaders, the audience and other extraneous distractions.

Two mood walls were some of the more creative elements.  To create this, the end walls of the auditorium were left bare above the eight foot high curtaining.  On the white wall above video projectors slowly and appropriately beamed images correlating to the theme of the night.  This worked remarkably well, creating a 270-degree experience (the rear wall was not utilized).

Art of diverse mediums was displayed on the stage and around the room.  Large paintings in genres ranging from classic to post-impressionism ringed the room.  In addition, congregants were encouraged to participate in interactive artwork, which during my visit included a large mosaic that would upon completion be displayed in the auditorium.

A final caveat. 

These examples should serve as models to assist others in sketching their own indigenized elements.  They are not to be followed unswervingly, but rather as examples to forge a coalition between church leaders and artists.

Footnotes:
1. This multi-purpose gymnasium featured basketballs courts, a stage recessed into one wall, and a cheery, if somewhat industrial, ambiance.  Such boomer predilection for light, airy and multi-use sacred spaces seems a reaction to the builder generation’s stained glass, dark wood and inflexible worship venues.
2. Vintage Faith’s goal is to have a ministry center near downtown Santa Cruz and rent a larger worship gathering space.  However, presently they are doing a remarkably adept job at creating a sacred space in a gymnasium
3. Adapted from the Vintage Faith Church bulletin, June 5, 2005.  For exhaustive ideas for creating sacred space see Dan Kimball’s helpful book written with David Crowder and Sally Morgenthaler titled Emerging Worship: Creating Worship Gatherings for New Generations (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2004).
4.  See “Missteps with Prayer” in Bob Whitesel, Growth By Accident, Death by Planning: How Not to Kill a Growing Congregation, pp. 43-53

CULTURE & Christ: 3 Lessons to Consider

by Bob Whitesel, excerpted with permission from Inside the Organic Church: Learning from 12 Emerging Congregations (Abingdon Press, 2006, pp. 55-57).

Lesson 1: Carefully investigate and examine elements of a culture.

Since modern culture is constantly adjusting and metamorphosing, the task of translating the Good News without surrendering its truth or disfiguring it is paramount and ongoing. This arduous task begins with thorough and careful examination of a culture. Anthropologist Paul Hiebert described culture as, “an integrated system of learned patterns of behavior, ideas and products characteristic of a society.”(1) Scrutiny of such an elaborate system is not for an immature Christian, since it requires investigating and evaluating a culture without being tainted by its more sordid elements.

However, a failure by Christian communicators to sufficiently investigate modern culture can make us look irrelevant. In an earlier book I interviewed Larry Osborne, pastor of North Coast Church in Vista, California. Larry told me the phenomenal growth of the church was in part because he regularly studies modern culture by perusing secular business, entertainment, and lifestyle magazines. “If I don’t understand the business world, when a businessperson talks to me about his or her world, its like were using two different dictionaries.”(2) The use of disparate dictionaries can also dilute an exchange of ideas with the young culture.

Therefore stay current with today’s youth culture by cautiously scrutinizing their books, music, movies, music videos, computer games, web-sites, web-blogs, etc.. While the truths of the Good News must never be sacrificed nor altered, connecting and contrasting it with today’s youth culture can make it more comprehensible.

Lesson 2: Discriminate and sift elements of a culture.

There is a tension between Christ and culture that must be examined. Richard Niebuhr in his classic treatise Christ and Culture suggested that there are several ways to look at Christ’s interaction with culture.(3)

One is “Christ against culture” a view embraced by the early church father Tertullian. In this view culture is seen as evil, thus requiring Christians to withdraw and insulate themselves, resulting in a monastic response. Charles Kraft exposes three fallacies in this view, demonstrating it is not in keeping Paul’s view that “nothing is unclean of itself” (Romans 14:14).(4)

Another view Niebuhr called “Christ Above Culture” which he divided into sub-categories.(5)  “Christ Above Culture in Synthesis” was held by Thomas Aquinas and views Jesus as the restorer of institutions of true society. This view believes that Christianity will one day totally transform culture, perhaps into a millennial peace. In another sub-category, “Christ Above Culture in Paradox,” Christ is seen above but in such tension with culture that a messy, muddled relationship results. Martin Luther grappled with this perspective, as did modern writer Mike Yaconelli who called this “messy spirituality.”(6)

However, a more valid sub-category may be “Christ Above but Transformer of Culture.” Embraced by Augustine, John Calvin, and John Wesley this view sees culture as corrupt but convertible.(7)  Kraft built upon this his position called “Christ above but working through culture,” explaining that “God chooses the cultural milieu in which humans are immersed as the arena of his interaction with people.”(8) Eddie Gibbs further elaborates that “such an approach represents a deliberate self-limiting on the part of God in order to speak in understandable terms and with perceived relevance on the part of the hearer. He acts redemptively with regard to culture, which includes judgment on some elements, but also affirmation in other areas, and a transformation of the whole.”(9)

If the “Christ above but working through culture” truly defines the tension and nexus between Christ and culture, then the job of the Christian communicator becomes challenging if not precarious. Therefore, our strategy must not conclude simply with step 1, investigating and examining culture, but also must continue through step 2, sifting and judging its elements. Here the prudent communicator must make qualitative judgments based upon Scripture, ethics, personal belief and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Lesson 3: Reject or affirm elements of culture.

The end result of this examination or sifting, must be a rejection of elements in conflict with Christ, but also an affirmation of those elements that are not so. I found that leaders of the organic church usually sift carefully through the movies, television shows, music, games, online resources and literature of young people. And they routinely explain in their sermons how God judges some aspects of postmodern culture, accepts other elements such as an emphasis on helping the needy, and has as a goal the transformation of the whole.(10)

The Christian communicator wishing to make the Good News relevant today must carefully examine the media barrage engulfing young people, understand its messages, while at the same time sifting elements that are opposed to Christ and identifying touchstones that can make connections with unchurched peopled. Freeway’s use of comedic film clips to underscore or juxtaposition God’s Word and contemporary culture has helped this organic congregation connect the Good News to unchurched young people.

Footnotes:

1. Paul Hiebert, Cultural Anthropology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1983), p. 25.
2. Bob Whitesel, Growth By Accident, Death By Planning, op. cit., p. 26.
3. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture (New York: Harper & Row, 1951). A second view is beyond the scope of our discussion. Labeled by Niebuhr “Christ of culture,” it was embraced by early Gnostic heretics. They interpreted Christ through cultural trends, rejecting any claims of Christ that conflicted with their culture. Counter to this, Isaiah 55:8 reminds us that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, or our ways his ways.
4. Charles H. Kraft, Christianity in Culture, (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1979), pp. 105-106.
5. Kraft, ibid., pp. 108-115 sees five subdivisions of the “Christ Above Culture” position. However, for this discussion only three are required. The reader seeking more exhaustive insights will benefit from a careful exploration of Kraft’s work.
6. Mike Yaconelli, Messy Spirituality (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2002). Yaconelli’s viewpoint has been popular among postmodern Christians, And, before his untimely death, Yaconelli was in demand as a lecturer. Young people often saw in his perspective one more in keeping with their untidy journey towards discipleship. To understand the angst and anxiety many young people sense today between their Christian understanding and their vacillating demeanor, see Yaconelli’s insightful volume.
7. Charles H. Kraft, Christianity in Culture, p. 113.
8. ibid., p. 114.
9. Eddie Gibbs, I Believe in Church Growth, (Grand Rapids, Mich,: Eerdmans, 1981), p. 92.
10. In my travels through the organic church, I found it’s leaders usually approached the rejection or affirmation of cultural elements in a circumspect and serious manner. Whether it was the “discothèque clubbers” of England who had to decide at what point youthful fashions became lewd, or the film clips that Freeway employed to illustrate a point; young organic leaders typically see the rejection of base elements of culture as not only required, but judicious.

ATTRACTIONAL & How To Keep the Focus Off of the Musicians

By Bob Whitesel, 7/6/14

While researching young growing churches I found that they often diligently work to keep the focus off of the musicians (and subsequently more on the supernatural presence of Christ). At Mars Church in Grandville Michigan the platform was in the middle of the sanctuary with congregants on four sides when I visited. It might be expected that the band would face outward on each of the four sides. But instead the band faced inward toward each other. Turning their backs upon the audience allowed the focus to be upon the large screens above them with the lyrics. The result was the focus was on the lyrics, not the singers.

At Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz the band was off stage out of the limelight on my forts visit. A simple cross was central on the platform. Dan Kimball even preached from the side of the stage, mentioning that his purpose wa to allow the cross to take the central focus.*OC Cover 64K

Not long afterward, I found a similar strategy at Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis. Here, like Mars Hill, the stage was in the middle and the audience surrounded it on four sides. But the band was behind the audience along one of the walls.

In these and many more visits to young congregations over the years I have found similar strategies to downplay the musicians and up-play the presence of Christ (for more details on these and other examples see my “Inside the Organic Church” by Abingdon Press).

Here are two ways you can start to get the focus off of the musicians.

1) Don’t put the musicians onstage and/or on the video screens. I believe this propensity for focusing/broadcasting the musicians comes from our cultural infatuation with concerts and popstars. It is hard to concentrate on Christ when a 15ft tall image of a musician looms above our heads, even if the lyrics are superimposed.

Instead, put the musicians off stage or off center, and put an icon relevant to the message/theme center stage (such as Vintage Faith’s platform-central cross).

2) If you don’t have room to move the band from the central platform, take the front lights off of them. Instead, put backlighting on the band (that means lighting them from behind with the lights shining on their backs). This creates a silhouette or outline of the band and worship leaders where their posture of worship is visible but not the nuances of their facial expressions. Some think musicians will not be able to see their music this way. But actually backlighting puts more light on their sheet music and less on any unintended facial frustrations.

The idea of putting the band offstage is not new. 35+ years ago I noticed the same strategy at one of the central churches of the 1960s Jesus Movement. Calvary Chapel was the California epicenter of this movement and was the magnet for California musicians both famous or unknown. But Pastor Chuck Smith regularity led the worship himself wit the musicians tucked away from the platform. The strategy took the focus away from the many professional yet hidden musicians and upon the singing of the 7,000 attendees.

CULTURE & Entertaining Videos on Cultural Time-warps #Multi-site #Multi-venue

by Bob Whitesel, 8/15/08

I’ve observed that people can get stuck in a “cultural time-warp” at the period when they experienced new birth and/or rapid spiritual growth. The result is that people connect music, styles, etc. associated with the time of their salvation/growth with “spiritually powerful” songs, styles, etc..  They feel the songs that impacted them, will always impact others.

And, this is normal but not beneficial. That is because the result can be that people will expect (and subtly require) others be touched by the same cultural songs, styles, etc. that they once enjoyed.

Here are some videos that can serve as an example.

Video A: The first was taken during the Jesus Movement of the late 60s and early 70s. I was saved at that time. And, this was how the ideal worship happened back then: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_kaEucoyNI

Video B: This next video is how Jesus Movement morphed into: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FIgiNAB99T0&feature=related

Video C: Here now is an example of how worship can happen in the e-world of today: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gaJ4A7mXJH8&feature=player_embedded

Which is better? How are they different?

Actually, A and C are very organic and much the same, only one eschewed technology (e.g. it is a cappella – which means “in the style of Medieval church music”) and the other relies on technology. As a person who has researched and experienced both the Jesus Movement and the Emerging Movement, I have pointed out that they are both very organic and similar (Inside the Organic Church, 2006, pp. xxiii-xxxiii).

The middle example (Video B) is what many Jesus Movement boomers grew to prefer. It is more event-orientated and resembles more of a concert format. For many boomers this could be their idea Sunday morning worship expression.

I think we would agree that these worship expressions are sometimes dissimilar, and at other times similar. And, that all three are valid, just for different people and different times. Thus, churches that are seeking to reach out to multiple cultures will want to have multiple worship expressions, so 2+ cultures can be reached. And, they may need to be at separate venues, for different cultures prefer different styles. When a church accommodates different cultural styles, it makes the church more inclusive, diverse and long-lived.

WORSHIP & Comparions of Ancient-style vs. Future-style

by Bob Whitesel from Inside the Organic Church: Learning from 12 emerging Congregations (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006).

Figure: A Partial Comparison of Ancient-Future Elements[i]

Ancient-Future Orientation Fuses the Two Columns

Ancient Future
Liturgical Musicology: –   Hymns-   Chants, etc.-   Professional interpretation. –   Alternative music-   Drum circles, etc.-   Audience participation.
Ambiance: –   Candles-   Natural lighting –   Computerized images,-   Mood walls.
Iconography: –   Plain icons such as:

  • Ichthus symbol,
  • Chi Rho (Constantinian) cross.

–   Lavishly ornamented icons such as:

  • Celtic symbols and crosses,
  • Byzantine symbols and crosses.
–   Techno-icons such as:

  • Mars Hill’s Directions© signs,
  • And, St. Tom’s Lifeshapes©

–   Stylized icons, where artists interpret ancient symbols via modern artistic genres, e.g. multi-media, expressionism, surrealism, kinetic art, etc.

Truth Delivery: –   Presentation of the Word via sermonizing, pedagogy-   Intricate musical lyrics.-   Art, such as stained-glass windows, mosaics, sculpture, church architecture, banners/tapestries, drama, etc.-   Stations of the Cross –   Interaction with the Word via questioning, dialogue-   Native[ii] musical lyrics.-   Art, such as film, video, acting, design, poetry, dance, photography, pottery, visual arts, abstract art, kinetic art, mixed-mediums, etc.-   Interactive stations
Christ and Culture –   Christ Against Culture, [iii]) leads to monastic disciplines (e.g. Tertullian, St. Benedict:

  • Prayer grottos,
  • Prayer labyrinths.
  • Meditation,
  • Spiritual retreat.
–   Christ Above But Working Through Culture, [iv] leads to sifting culture where,

  • Some elements are judged,
  • Others reaffirmed,
  • For the transform-ation of the whole.[v]
Discipleship Ethos –   Monastic, “withdrawal from the institutions and societies of civilization.”[vi] –   Missional, with engagement and “dynamic equivalence.”[vii]

Footnotes:

[i] The chart is not meant to be exhaustive. It is presented here simply to give the reader a general direction of the ancient-future nexus. The elements of these columns will continue to evolve and adjust along with culture, experimentation, and effectiveness.

[ii] Native is a word I have introduced into the organic discussion due to a sense it conveys the duality of the organic church’s sentiments, where feelings of opposite extremes are acknowledged, and even expected as the result of humanity’s fall. Thus, native sums up the dual yet inborn nature of humanness, where emotional pairings such as the following contest with one another: e.g. faith-doubt, love-hatred, impartiality-prejudice, acceptance-alienation, community-isolation, exuberance-despondency, reassurance-apprehension, chance-predetermination, etc. Such human duality is often expressed in the organic church’s liturgy, songs and teachings; and has biblical precedence in the psalmists’ meditations, e.g. Psalm 12, 53, and 139 among others.

[iii] H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture, pp. 45-82.

[iv] Charles H. Kraft, Christ in Culture: A Study in Dynamic Biblical Theologizing in Cross-Cultural Perspective, pp. 113-115.

[v] Eddie Gibbs, I Believe in Church Growth, pp. 92-95, 120.

[vi] H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture, p. 56. It should be noted that I have not witnessed any societal withdrawal due to monastic tendencies in the organic church. Rather their monastic elements are primarily evident in spiritual disciplines, such as praying at the monastic hours.

[vii] Charles H. Kraft, Christ in Culture: A Study in Dynamic Biblical Theologizing in Cross-Cultural Perspective, pp. 315-327.